First Published as “All That’s Jazz … Vocalist / Educator Credits HBCU for Nurturing Talent” on http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1078749 CNN iReport
Values Life Lessons, Encouragement and Importance of Family
Jazz takes all the elements in our culture and puts them into perspective.
Billy Taylor, Musician
1921 – 2010
Lori Williams is an intriguing, beautiful and unique jazz vocalist. The daughter of Robert and Myrtle Williams was born at Bethesda Naval Hospital on January 22nd, 1967, in Maryland, and was raised in Washington, D.C. She has traveled many roads abroad and in the U.S. to become recognized and known as one of the best Jazz vocalists performing today. Stanley Clarke, George Duke, The Blackbyrds, Phil Perry, Oleta Adams and Yolanda Adams are just a few of the notable celebrities who have benefited from her talents during various performances and recording sessions.
Williams has a B.A. in Mass Media Communications and graduated from Hampton University in 1988. At twenty-two she moved oversees to Japan and worked as a sales team administrative assistant for CEMA, a record label distribution company affiliated with EMI / Capitol Records. After five years in Japan, she returned to the United States and began working in education. A certified vocal educator, she taught kindergarten for about a year, and then elementary school, before ending up at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C.
Williams’ career in jazz might not have ever taken off if not for two college professors that provided mentoring and various performance opportunities to her while attending Hampton University. During her time there, she served as the Jazz Program Director at WHOV-FM, won 2nd place in the Budweiser Showdown, and even appeared on ‘Showtime at the Apollo.’ She credits Professor Dr. Effie Gardner, whom she says is the reason for her singing jazz today, and Professor Robert Ransom for their direction, counsel and the love, which she attributes to the family atmosphere and tradition of Hampton University. “These professors were both parents who tended to show love to their students,” said Williams.
Williams added, “Going to Hampton was a pivotal moment in my life. I did music throughout high school, but I dare say that the person who was my music teacher was not as encouraging to me as I am to my own students. Some of the words that she shared with me created self-doubt and caused me to push and go in the opposite direction; mainly because I was told that I wouldn’t make it! Today when I’m in my classroom, I often hear that teacher’s voice, and it reminds me of what to say and what not to say to my students. I always tell them I’m not their dream catcher or dream stealer. You’ve got to do it on your own. I don’t think Professor Gardner really knew the impact she made on the shape and course of my life. This woman introduced me to so much in the realm of Jazz.”
As a mother of two children herself, Williams is positive that it was this very type of caring and demonstration of love for her during those early college years that made her really comfortable and proud that her 21 year-old daughter, Lauren Highsmith, a senior at Hampton majoring in Language Arts with double minors in both Music and Leadership studies, is following her educational and musical legacy within the encouraging confines of the historically black university.
Williams believes music and education are truly a part of her family legacy. She grew up in a home filled with music and says her daughter Lauren and six year-old son, Yusef Khalil Chisholm, have a passion for music as well. When it comes to teaching and sharing what she knows, Williams’ caring approach toward her students is apparent and is equaled only by her dedication to the art of Jazz. As a jazz clinician, she has taught and performed in numerous programs and festivals in the U.S. and Europe. In addition, she has been recognized by The Maryland General Assembly on behalf of Maryland State Senator Anthony Muse, for her many contributions and demonstrated commitment to the arts as a jazz vocalist, educator and instructor. In 2010 she received the Vincent E. Reed Teacher of the Year award, and in 2007 was the Superintendent’s Arts Teacher of the Year.
Even Vice President Joe Biden was taken aback by her vocal artistry when he witnessed her fantastic performance of “OH, FREEDOM” at the Fredrick Douglass Statue Dedication Ceremony on June 19th, 2013 at the U.S. Capital Visitor Center in Emancipation Hall. Biden expressed his appreciation in a personal note acknowledging her talent saying.” You actually do have the voice of an angle.” Williams released her debut CD entitled: Healing Within, in 2010 and a recent CD entitled: Eclipse of the Soul in 2012. She draws a lot of her inspiration from the likes of Dianne Reeves, Bobby McFerrin and others.
It’s no wonder that her musical talent is typically shared with the best of the best which reads like a virtual Who’s Who of Jazz, Blues and R&B greats such as; David Archuleta, Regina Belle, Eric Benet, Keter Betts, Norman Brown, Tom Browne, Peabo Bryson, Jerry Butler, T.C. Carson, Gene Chandler, Will Downing, David Dyson, James Genus, Savion Glover, Slide Hampton, Walter Hawkins, Nathan Heathman, William Hubbard, Al Johnson (The Unifics), Allyn Johnson and Divine Order, Kindred The Family Soul, Ben E. King, Debbie Kirkland, Ledisi, Marion Meadows, Maysa, Julia Nixon, Lloyd Price, Ellie Saitoh and The Love Tambourines, Saltman Knowles Group, Sylver Logan Sharp (Chic), The Sherelles, Gary Taylor, Tony Terry, Bobby Vee and The Vees, Andre Ward, Kim Waters, Allyson Williams, Vanessa R. Williams, Vesta Williams, Sherry Winston, and Terri Lynne Carrington.
Lori Williams has been sharing her musical gift with jazz enthusiasts and students for some twenty-five years. The sound she creates is pure musical inspiration, and all who come to know and hear her agree that the best is yet to come.