Andre Williams: a story of Faith, Music, and Perseverance
Faith, talent, perseverance, and the love of music… These are the beliefs, devotions, gifts, and inspirations that fuel the spirit of one young Andre Williams of Rupert , WV , age 18, singer of love songs, pop tunes, old-school Motown, and inspirational hymns. Having placed (more than once) in his age division,14-17 at the time, in the competition “West Virginia’s Finest Talent” , he more recently ranked number one, first place, in last fall’s contest held at Tamarack, (in which I was honored to be a judge, my faith again restored by the musical youth that surrounds us in our area). I was all for this big old kid with the sweet voice. A feature on young Andre on the West Virginia Division of Culture and History’s “ArtWorks” television program ensued, due to his previous successes. And though I’d seen him in the competitions, it was great to see him at the State Fair as opening act for Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr.. It was possibly Andre’s largest audience to date, though he has performed at Charleston ’s Clay Center last winter, where he was invited to sing “Silent Night” onstage with Landau. “I was just attending the sound check and meeting Landau,” said Williams, but was invited by Landau to “stick around and have dinner with me and the band.” Williams says. “I did, and then he invited me to sing during his show.” Nice break.
Andre knew he could sing from an early age, and went from singing in church to eventually entering small talent competitions in the area. He was getting some attention at the age of 9 or 10 for his hymns, and he knew he had more music in him than could be always conveyed in church. Coming from a sizable family including eleven children, many of whom were adopted from different families, Andre had his share of obstacles to overcome. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 11, and underwent chemotherapy, blood transfusions, and a bone marrow transplant, missing his entire 5th grade year of school. Shortly after the cancer went into remission, as it remains, Williams’ adoptive father died. But Andre endured, and came through it all with a devotion and spirit wise beyond his years. And his saving grace, his refuge, was music, and remains so. And just last Sept. 11, 2011, after a courageous battle with cancer, Williams’ mother passed away, a devastating blow to the then high-school senior. He actually was able to move in with the family of his former music teacher, which allowed him to graduate with the rest of his class, and also provided another musically supportive environment. He put together a storyboard to accompany a song he recorded after his mother’s death. It’s posted on YouTube. Williams asserts that he gets his resolute tenacity from his mom. When I asked him what he would do if he wasn’t singing, he said he hopes to pursue a degree in broadcasting at Marshall University , an interest that can still incorporate his talent, his love of performing, and his natural poise and charisma.
Andre took the stage at the WV State Fair and was so gracious and sweet, the audience was immediately on his side. He knew he had five songs to do, and put as much variety in his selection as his could, while still maintaining cohesion. Though singing with “tracks” in lieu of “real” musicians is always a bit off-putting, it was forgiven when he turned on that youthful charm and spoke and sang from the heart. Opening with the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, and everyone was instantly in a great mood, thinking, “Just who is this kid?” He followed up with an emotional original (written with the help of Beckley guitarist Dan Bailey, a regular collaborator of Andre’s) about a girl’s mama watching after her from beyond, called “Dear Julie”. I held hands with my companion Carli, no stranger to loss, and we drank in the night and the love and the missing of those not with us…Then it was on to Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You”, and then a similar themed original called “Emily”. (Um, just how broken could your heart really be when you’re 18?) He’s young, he has a way to go, but I revel in the possibilities of what this boy can bring us. His final song was “How Great Thou Art”, and it was from deep within. (You can hear this on YouTube.com/desmondwwilliams. You can also find him on Facebook.com/ Andre Williams Music.) Looking around this place of donuts and elephant ears, midway music and cowboy boot swagger, as the horses neighed in the distance, listening to this unwavering young man sing to us, people were “testifyin’”! There were tears, there were hands and voices raised. When I spoke to him later, he said, “In singing, your faith really comes into play. There is such PEACE in singing.” I understand. I feel that sometimes. While your voice and spirit come together, you can rise above many earthly hindrances.
When asked about the most valuable piece of advice anyone had given him, he again mentioned Landau Murphy, Jr., who told him, “Get rich in PEOPLE. The minute you start looking at the money, you lose sight of why you do this. You need to remember who the people who really support you are. Take time, EVERY time, to take every opportunity to speak to people who have come to hear you. Take pictures, sign autographs, be thankful and gracious to everyone who has put you here.”
I think this kid will be fine. Blessings abound. Faith perseveres. Peace, spirit, and music are enough if you know who you are.
By Susanna Robinson-Kenga for LBSPY, Issue #14 (Aug 27th)