Monday, December 1, 2008

Writing That Makes Music

At the age of fourteen, I developed my first crush. And it happened to be on a writer. I didn't view him as such at the time, but he was. And his writing made music. I didn't know who he was or what he looked like, but for every single minute that the song played on the radio through the speakers in my daddy's car, the lead singer of it held my heart in his hands. It would be years before I'd discover the owner of that captivating voice. Four years later, to be exact.

In my staunch Christian childhood household, gospel was the only music allowed. My parents (both of whom are preachers) had their preferred gospel artists. Their album collection sported worthy names like Rev. James Cleveland, Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood, and the like. My father and mother weren't big fans of quartet music, but at the age of eighteen, I purchased my very first album, and it was quartet music at its finest. The title of it was Blessed and the group was The Williams Brothers.

A few days before my purchase, I'd been listening to the radio again and heard the words, "I'm just a nobody, trying to tell everybody, about somebody who can save anybody" sang over the airways. I immediately knew that the man behind the mic was the same singer...the same writer, who had captured me four years earlier. Once I purchased Blessed, I did a little research of the four men on the cover and learned that the identity of my "first love" was the one standing behind the sofa. His name was Melvin Williams.

Ironically, many years later, Melvin (unknowingly to him, but definitely by God's design) rescued me from the onset of a bout with severe depression. It was April 14, 1996, six months after the death of my first husband and the darkest time in my life. Melvin didn't have a clue of what I was going through at the time, but a concerned friend of mine saw my situation and insisted that I go to meet him backstage after a Williams Brothers concert. I'd seen Melvin in concert before, but this was the first time I'd met him. It was a brief encounter that consisted merely of a few exchanged words, a handshake and a photo opportunity. On the outside, it appeared to be insignificant, but somehow, meeting him gave me the courage to breathe again.

When I founded the ministry of Cruisin' For Christ in 2006, Melvin was the first artist on my list to add to the talent roster. Ten years had passed since the '96 encounter and I knew he would not remember me; but I prayed that when the cruise's Entertainment Director reached out to him, he would see the vision of Cruisin' For Christ and agree to join our first launching in 2007. And he did. Not only did he sail with us on our inaugural cruise, but he returned for Cruisin' For Christ II in 2008 and is a confirmed featured artist for the upcoming Cruisin' For Christ III in 2009.

And it is with great honor that I share my recent interview with him with my blog readers. Introducing a man whose writings make music.....the legendary, Melvin Williams.

KNB: Thanks for joining me, Melvin. Please share the back-story of how you got your start in gospel music.
MW: I got my start in gospel music through my dad, Leon “Pop” Williams and my older brothers, Frank and Huey Williams of the Jackson Southernnaires. Frank later became the founder of the Mississippi Mass Choir. But before all that success, he was an original Williams Brothers first. We were organized in the late 60’s and recorded our first Williams Brothers album in 1973.

KNB: Hands down, your success and longevity has earned you the right to be categorized as a legend, but I know it hasn’t always been easy. What are some of the obstacles you had to overcome on the road to become the respected artist we know today?
MW: One of the things we were concerned with over the years was that we did not want to be categorized as just a quartet group. We wanted our music to cross all genres and touch people from all walks of life. And we thank God that He allowed us to achieve that goal by writing and producing music that everyday people can relate to and identify with.

KNB: That's the same way I feel about my fiction writing. I want all readers to be touched by my message too. I have colleagues who dislike being labeled as "Christian writers" because they believe it limits their appeal to the book-buying public. As a gospel recording artist, do you embrace the identification as such, or would you rather just be generalized simply as an entertainer, without the Christianity label?
MW: I like being labeled as both. There’s always been a certain amount of entertainment in our music. But at the end of the day, above all, we want our music to be remembered as our ministry.

KNB: Oh, it will be. No doubt about that. Now, this question is always a difficult one to answer when people pose it to me regarding my books; but I'm going to put it out there to you about your music. Over the years, you’ve written and recorded many songs with The Williams Brothers and as a solo artist. Among your collection, do you have one song that is your personal favorite? If so, which is it and why does is resonate so fondly with you?
MW: “Prayer Made the Difference” from the This Is Your Night album is one of my favorites because it is one of those songs that helps me get through a lot of issues and struggles in my personal life. Another favorite of mine is “I’m Still Here” from the Still Here CD.

KNB: Why is that one a favorite?
MW: Well, when you listen to the words it's self explanatory of where we’ve come from, what we’ve been through and where God has allowed us to be today.

KNB: Speaking of things you've been through, what has been your greatest heartbreak or disappointment to date (personal or professional) and how did you survive it?
MW: My greatest heartbreak would probably be losing my brother, Frank, because he was not only my brother but also my best friend. But it was his contribution to the world through his music that helped me to survive. The song “Special Place” from my Never Seen Your Face CD which was dedicated in his memory sums it up best how close we were and what he meant to me.

KNB: I remember when Frank died in '93. The song, "Your Grace and Mercy" that he recorded with The Mississippi Mass Choir is still a favorite of mine. And as you know, "Never Seen Your Face" is my favorite Melvin Williams song. I remember cheering from my sofa as I watched you accept a Stellar for that album. As a singer/musician/composer, you've won many awards for outstanding music. Is there anything in your career that you have not accomplished that you hope to achieve in the future?
MW: Lately, I’ve done quite a bit of co-hosting with Dr. Bobby Jones. I’d like to do more television and radio hosting and a movie about the life story of The Williams Brothers. And win a Grammy if that’s in God’s plan. You know we’ve been beat out six times between Shirley Caesar, Albertina Walker and The Blind Boys. Maybe we should get some dark glasses? (laughing) Just kidding. Y'all know I do have a sense of humor. They’re friends of mine and I’m happy for them.

KNB: You definitely deserve a Grammy, so I hope it's God's will for you to win one soon. In the meantime, what’s next for you? Any new projects on the horizon?
MW: The Williams Brothers just released our first album in over 5 years entitled “The Journey Continues” that is in stores now. Other new projects are a possible “Best of Melvin Williams” in '09, a new Neal Roberson LIVE and The Fellas featuring Pastor Tim Rogers.

KNB: I recently purchased "The Journey Continues" and it's a great project. Well worth the 5-year wait. I highly recommend it. And I'll surely be first in line for the "Best of" album. Maybe we can give you a CD release party for it on the cruise next year...(keeping my fingers crossed). In closing, I'm going to throw out a couple of words and you tell me your favorite in these categories. Just a fun way for my readers to get a feel for Melvin Williams, the man. First, what's your favorite color?
MW: Earthtone colors (brown, tan, etc.)
KNB: Food?
MW: Soul food and seafood
KNB: Seafood is my favorite too. Ummm, favorite scripture?
MW: There are several scriptures that I live by so I don't have just one favorite.
KNB: Okay; pastime or hobbies?
MW: Riding my 4-wheeler, concerts, and going to the movies

That's a wrap! I know how busy your are, Melvin, so thanks for lending Blessed2Write a few minutes of your time. Your talent for writing words that make music is a gift to the world and I pray much continued success to you and The Williams Brothers.

Visit Melvin on the web at any of the following Internet sites:

Melvin Williams - The Williams Brothers - Melvin Williams Fan Club


Zaria Garrison said...

Great interview Kendra. He is also one of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Kendra, your story of your first crush was touching. Really. Like I was about to cry while I was reading it. And then how life came full circle and the two of you are now working together in ministry with the cruise. Sister, that sounds like the makings of one of your wonderful books. I've never been a quartet fan but this article makes me want to go and buy some of Melvin's music. He's so handsome! Is he married? Ha! Just kidding. I think I'll get the new CD that you endorsed.


The Master's Mime said...

Wow, what an interview Kendra! Melvin is a great person, and thanks to your vision (Cruisin' For Christ) I was able to meet him face to face on Cruisin' For Christ II. So if you are reading this comment and you missed the boat in 2008, don't let it sail by you in 2009, because we are going from Glory to Glory!

Love you Kendra,

The Master's Mime

Linda Beed said...

Great interview Kendra.

It is wonderful when a ministry with the depth of the Williams Brothers makes an impression on several generations.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Kendra. This is Carolyn. Girl, you brought back memories when you mentioned hearing "I'm Just A Nobody" on the radio. I have the album BLESSED too (on cassette) and I hadn't looked at it or listened it in years. When I read this post, I found it in a case I had stashed in my closet and popped it in my recorder. I'd forgotten how much I loved that song! That was the jam in the mid 90's.

I looked at that photo of The Williams Brothers on the front cover and couldn't help but laugh. They were dressed to kill back then, but it's funny to look at now. They aged real well though. They look better today than they did 20 years ago. They sing better too. That's what God's anointing will do for you.

Thanks for the memories, Kendra. And your story about your introduction to Melvin and his brothers is wonderful. That's one you can tell your grandchildren and great grandchildren one day.


Michelle Stimpson said...

Love your new blog, Kendra. God Bless!

Patricia W. said...

Kendra, I'm not much of a quartet fan but I can say that I could hear every Williams Brothers' song that was mentioned in this article in my head. So they're leaving a great impression on a lot of people, even if we don't realize it as it's happening.

Anonymous said...

Great interview Kendra. I really enjoyed reading the interview you had with Melvin Williams. He is my favorite male singer. We grew up on listen to the Williams brothers and other quartet. I can remember when I first heard his voice and I just feel in love and I couldn't wait to put the voice with the face and when I saw him he definitly had my heart and even forty-two years later my heart still belongs to him, so he was my first love also and still is(yeap still is). Thanks for sharing your interview with his fan.
God bless you,