Marion Williams was born in Miami, Florida, to a religiously devout mother and musically inclined father. She left school when she was nine years old to help support the family, and worked as a maid, a nurse, and in factories and laundries. She began singing in front of audiences while young. As was common in the area, Williams learned African-American blues and jazz, alongside Caribbean calypso. Poverty caused Williams to leave school at fourteen to work with her mother at a laundry, although she eventually graduated from Pacific Union College in 1987. She sang at church and on street corners, inspired by a wide range of musicians, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Smith Jubilee Singers. She stayed with gospel in spite of pressure to switch to popular blues tunes or the opera.
In 1946, while visiting a friend in Philadelphia, Williams happened to sing before an audience that included Clara and Gertrude Ward. They recognized her talent and offered her a job. A year later, she became part of the Famous Ward Singers. Her growling, hands-on-the-hips vocal style made her one of the group's undisputed stars.
In 1992, critic and music historian Dave McGee, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide, said "One will come away from her recordings believing that she was nothing less than the greatest singer ever".
The Ward SingersEdit
Williams was invited to join the Ward Singers when they heard her singing during a visit to a close friend in Philadelphia in 1946. Williams did so in 1947, staying with them for eleven years. Her first recording with the group was How Far Am I from Canaan (1948), followed by the breakthrough Surely God Is Able, which launched Williams and the rest of the group into super-stardom. Their concerts were mobbed by frenzied fans.
Stars of FaithEdit
Dissatisfied with the low pay she was receiving while starring for the group, Williams left the Ward Singers in 1958, followed by most of the rest of the group, to form the Stars of Faith. The Stars of Faith was unable, however, to reproduce the success the Ward Singers had enjoyed, as Williams retreated from the spotlight to give other members of the group more opportunity to star. The group's career recovered, however, in 1961, when it appeared in Black Nativity, an Off-Broadway production, and toured across North America and Europe.
In 1965, Williams began a solo career. While in Miami for her mother's funeral, she felt re-inspired to continue her career and began touring college campuses across the country. Her perhaps best-known hit, Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go, is from this period.
|Can't Keep It To Myself||Shanachie Entertainment Corp.||1993|
|1||"Got On My Traveling Shoes"||3:01|
|2||"Ain't He Good"||2:45|
|3||"God's Amazing Grace"||5:48|
|4||"Come Out The Corner"||2:46|
|5||"Leave You In The Hands Of The Lord"||3:06|
|6||"Ride In The Clouds"||3:04|
|7||"Press On (Like The Bible Said)"||2:18|
|8||"The New Gospel Train"||2:24|
|9||"Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen"||3:37|
|10||"I'll Never Return No More"||1:51|
|11||"Hark The Voice"||3:21|
|13||"Live The Life I Sing About In My Song"||3:35|
|14||"I Heard The Voice"||2:40|
|15||"I'm So Glad"||2:33|
|16||"I Have A Friend"||3:38|
|17||"O Lord Remember Me"||2:55|
|18||"Were You There When They Crucified My Lord"||2:42|
|19||"Loose The Man"||2:27|
|22||"I Just Can' t Keep It To Myself"||3:47|
|Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go||Atlantic Recording Corp.||1971|
|1||"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother"||4:48|
|2||"Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go"||3:24|
|3||"Turn! Turn! Turn!"||2:39|
|4||"This Generation Shall Not Pass"||3:23|
|5||"My Sweet Lord"||3:52|
|6||"Heaven Help Us All"||3:29|
|7||"Make Peace With Yourself"||2:43|
|9||"Put Your Hand in the Hand"||4:58|
Williams opens the 1990 video Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers singing the signature song. Later in the PBS production, she stylized the song in her own way. In 1991, she performed as a gospel singer in the film Fried Green Tomatoes, though her scene is available only in the director's cut. The movie was dedicated to her.
A powerful singer with a preternaturally broad range, able to reach the highest registers of the soprano range without losing either purity or volume, she could also swoop down to growling low notes in the style of a country preacher.
Honors and awardsEdit
Williams was an esteemed member and Church Mother at the BM Oakley Memorial Church of God in Christ in Philadelphia under the pastorate of the late Mother Irene A. Oakley.
Williams died at the Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia on July 2, 1994, aged 66.