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Part Three of the Women in Music Series

“When I sing, I like to do hard-grinding blues.”

Brenda Williams peppers jazz on top of everything, whether she’s playing in a fine-tailored Motown revue or a gospel show with one of her six bands.

“When you hear Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday … you hear a human instrument,” says singer Brenda Williams, “[and] you try to mimic the styling.”

For Williams, singing for her father in church at age 6 was just the beginning. She won Mrs. Montana and became second runner-up for Mrs. America in 1984 — and that was before her career really began.

“Everything kind of happened shortly thereafter,” she says. That included opening for Ray Charles. “I was well received,” she remembers.

Now a grandmother, Williams says her “children have taught [her] so much about life.” She’s watching her grandchildren grow up, realizing the importance of teaching youngsters musical performance. Williams’ time spent performing in the American Cabaret Theatre for 10 years inspired her to instruct young people about good stage presence. “That, to me, is the way my music has affected people — through performance,” she says.

The grass-roots musical equivalent to a professional athlete, Williams released her most recent CD, Brenda Williams … Live Again, in 2006. “Out of 1,000 CDs, I have 150 left,” she says, “and I’ve only been selling them out of the trunk of my car.” Next, her mission is to record a gospel album.

“I did a play called Crowns about women wearing hats and going to church, and it was all gospel music,” Williams says. “I did most of the songs in the show [of which, a few will be re-released, with a twist, on her upcoming album, including ‘On the Battlefield for My Lord’]. It’s gonna have a modern back-up band with saxophone and trumpet. It’ll be exciting praise music.”

The music Williams records and performs full-time — joyful, easy-listening jazz and standards — is
not the same music she listens to in her car. “I have some really old-school rap [in there now],” she
says, adding that she’s thinking about covering some of the tracks with her band, the Soul Providers.

“When I get to sing, I like to do hard-grinding blues, and I love songs like ‘The Thrill is Gone’ by B.B. King,” she continues. “He makes the guitar talk! I also love Otis Redding’s ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.’ At the end, I whistle. I call it my talent. (laughs) And sometimes, I’ll scat.” Williams hopes her next year kicks off well. “When I’m not performing, I’m gathering material for different shows,” she says.

Fans can find her at the Jazz Kitchen, which, she says, is one of her favorite intimate jazz venues in Indiana.