In 1970 a five year old lad in a family church choir in St. Croix, Virgin Islands set his feet on the path to a life of music and the performing arts. Fritzmaurice Williams had no idea what his destiny would be but this vocal experience led him to take his first steps to becoming one among the celebrated Reggae artists traveling the world to share his art.
Choir eventually became learning the saxophone, becoming a member of the high school marching band and jazz band. Fritzmaurice Williams eventually became “Army” after relocating to New York, completing his high school education and serving in the U.S. Army. When asked why he joined the army, Maurice explains that it was “because I was young, seeking adventure, and it was my way to see the world.” He also explains how he picked up the “Army” nickname. “I, along with anyone from my part of town, gets a nickname, wanted or unwanted, I kept a militant posture upon my return home, and my best buddy at the time, Isis, gave me the name; it stuck!!”
While there was no music going on in the army for “Army,” upon his return home to St. Croix, he was promptly introduced to his first band Sacred Science that he was invited to join. Working with the band showed him a new world that gave him a feeling of being in the right place. He says, “Music allowed me to open up and be fearless, face the crowd, speak my mind.” Once shy and very introverted, singing required him to bring forth his voice to first find the truth in his own heart and then to share it with the world. He eventually became engrossed in the Virgin Island Reggae scene and began expressing his artistry in ways that led to being included on the Eastbound and Homegrown compilations.
Reggae music is what gave Fritzmaurice Williams his true voice. His Army nickname became his performing artist handle that ironically became a reflection of his approach and purpose to use music “as a weapon in the war for spiritual renewal and justice for all people.” Maurice’s life experiences, as well as his desire to make a difference, drive him to create music that speaks to the youth and all people to turn from the paths that eventually lead to pain and destruction.
While his original motivation may not have been as far reaching and driven in this “war,” genuine self-healing eventually develops a desire for all mankind to also find their sources for healing. His music brings this forth and gives the world another positive tool to come awake and follow their blessings. Maurice explains that “When I’m connected to music, I feel this is my path and I’m doing what the universe expects of me … and having to create takes me to places I can’t explain.” Creativity or any activity that is Jah-blessed fills a person with grace. Good artists like Maurice “Army” Williams spread these blessings to those who want to share in the One Love.
When queried about the “Army” name and if the references to “war” found on his website are an “aggressive war,” he states, “I feel it is not aggressive enough! With all the problems facing the black community, the war should be waged around the clock. It, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with violence but with the fight to find and rebuild ourselves. Just within my lifetime, I have seen us go down so far with all the things that glitter gold, but come to find out is a whole heap of pyrite.”
Army’s early albums include Yesterday’s News released in 2000 and Struggler released in 2002. He followed with “a powerful duet with Luciano” to release the single “Calling Jah Army” in 2003 and then another inclusion with “I Don’t Know” in the notable Talkin Roots II compilation.
As he continued to develop his style and expression, the Reggae world was beginning to instantly recognize his name and method. His voice, “influenced by such artists as Nat King Cole, Dennis Brown and Freddie McGregor,” carries the Virgin Islands inflection as well as being developed with a Jazz vocal background that gives his voice a smooth and entrancing tone while also energizing the spirit. Listening to his music makes the the body go rocking and the heart knocking while entering a state of energized calm. His goal is to “send positive universal messages to people through my music, without the commercialism we see so much today” and he has made his mission clear through his commitment to making a positive difference in the world.
This commitment has led to three more recent albums: Zion Soldiers Chant 2008, Rasta Awake 2011 and Dredlocks Time 2013. In these works, we see how the Reggae conscious singing method is deeply woven into his musical journey. The healing that this genre brought to him, as well as music from the variety of styles he studied, continuously motivates him to bring healing to the world. Songs like “Think Positive,” “I Am,” “Rasta Humble” and “State of Mind” from Zion Soldiers Chant, “Give the Youths A Try,” “Share Your Love” and “Honorebel” from Rasta Awake and “Tru Love Come Down,” ‘Modern World” and “Jah Will Guide” from Dredlocks Time envelope the listener with the Army purpose to raise consciousness, heal and speak to the heart that Jah gave mankind.
Maurice says that “after the army it was Reggae and I have resided there since.” He may have left Jazz behind as a focal point but its influences continue to shape his music and are most evident in pieces like “‘ave Mercy” “Same Ole” and “Our Luv” in Zion Soldiers Chant. And, fans can anticipate more inspired Reggae creations with Army’s recent acquisition of another sax and return to training. He says, “look forward to some horn work from Army!”
The life of a musician can be a rough road but for Army it is another way to see more of the world. He enjoys traveling and uses music tours to get to know “different geographics and demographics.” “Tours I love” he exclaims. Northern California is now home for him but he visits the Virgin Islands at least twice a year. He has a daughter residing there and other connections that keep him gladly bound to his homeland.
Maurice says his family is also musically gifted with a brother who is “the best guitarist I know. He is self-taught, does gospel and has about six albums. His two sons went to college as music majors. I have a lot of other family that, if they wanted to, would do pretty well in music. This is one where I agree it's in the blood.” And, while he is not yet married he does have “a lady.” He has one sister in Virginia and one in Atlanta and his oldest brother is in London.
It is the people of the world and life that inspire him. “I just try to tell a good story,” he says. “My adopted mom gave to me willingly and without thought of virtue; it’s my greatest inspiration to return to the universe without thought of virtue.” And, while his message may sometimes incorporate specific cultural and ethnic references, Army doesn’t “sing to alienate anyone.” His aim is to “send messages that as a human family we all feel, experience and understand.”
When asked about racism and what he has encountered in his travels around the world, Army admits he has “encountered plenty enough in earlier times” but has “not encountered much racism as a performer.” He says “I sing to diverse audiences all the time and I include everyone; we are one family, that’s earth family! So, my messages are universal.”
In his 2014 summer tour, he will be performing at the annual One Love One Heart Roots Music Festival which takes place every Labor Day weekend at the Rio Ramaza Marina in Sacramento, CA. It will be his third year at this festival which now draws fans that anticipate his appearance and hope to see him perform annually as the six year festival continues to grow. Army says about the One Love festival, “I love the fest. I also love the work Denise is doing standing alone in the toughest of conditions. I would love to see her hard work give due diligence …. Bless up Denise!” Denise Carter is the founder and organizer of the One Love festival, handles many things from booking the talent to paying the bills, creating schedules, vendor registration and more.
Whether the new releases by Army incorporate the sax, echo a background in jazz, drive deeper into the traditional Reggae style or come forth with something entirely new and modern for the Reggae culture, the music and the message is sure to speak from the heart. His voice is not only enjoyable to listen to; it speaks the Word in a way that makes listeners eager to hear. Fritzmaurice “Army” Williams comes from that special place when he creates - that place that is hard to explain but is so clearly defined in his songs and vibrations. He says, “if someone could walk away with some type of healing, they could be touched in some kind of way, they could associate themselves with some aspect of the music and then say ‘wow, maybe I’ll make it after all’… if I could shine some light somehow, I would know that I have done something.”