Marion Williams

Marion Williams (August 29, 1927 - July 2, 1994) was a legendary American gospel singer, often regarded as one of the most powerful voices in American music history. 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. Williams' singing helped make the Ward Singers nationally popular when they began recording in 1948, and also inspired Rock 'n' Roll pioneer Little Richard's signature wail. She was born in Miami, to a religiously devout mother and musically inclined father. ...show more

Marion Williams (August 29, 1927 - July 2, 1994) was a legendary American gospel singer, often regarded as one of the most powerful voices in American music history. 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. Williams' singing helped make the Ward Singers nationally popular when they began recording in 1948, and also inspired Rock 'n' Roll pioneer Little Richard's signature wail. She was born in Miami, to a religiously devout mother and musically inclined father.

As was common in the area, Williams was exposed to African American blues and jazz, alongside Caribbean calypso. Poverty caused Williams to leave school at fourteen, working with her mother at a laundry. She was singing at church and on street corners, inspired by a wide range of musicians including Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Smith Jubilee Singers. She stuck with gospel, however, in spite of pressure to switch to popular blues tunes or the opera.

Williams was invited to join the Ward Singers when they heard her singing during a visit to her sister 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 superstardom. Their concerts were mobbed by frenzied fans. ...show less