Deniece Williams: This is her song

Thursday 1st October 1998

Having made a name for herself as an incomparable soul diva, and a more recent one as a BBC radio presenter, DENIECE WILLIAMS returns with a hot new gospel album. Mike Rimmer reports.

The fact that Deniece Williams is once again releasing a gospel album has been a cause for celebration amongst fans of her angelic voice. The fact that the album was rumoured to include more urban flavours than previous releases and...gasp...a rap also added to the excitement. A train ride to London and a trip to Wesley Owen where Deniece is holed up doing interviews should unlock the mysteries of the new album, 'This Is My Song'.

Dedicated to Lucile Gladden, Deniece's grandmother who died back last year, perhaps it's fitting to begin at the beginning! It was Lucille who took young Deniece to church and she remembers, "I just loved the strength of my grandmother and her belief, and the joy she found in praying for other people and getting people saved and her stand for Christ. She prayed for us and she prayed me into the kingdom because after I got to be about 18 years old, I said to myself "ok, I've had enough of this " and still my grandmother continued to pray and say "God has a work for you" and I would say " yea, la la la la ,I don't hear anything! I've given the Church money", well that was the answer I sent them a cheque! and my Grandma would say "no, God has a work for you to do " She knew that there was a call on my life and I certainly didn't recognize it for many many years but she continued to pray for me., and a lot of her prayers are being answered today."

So why did she delay recording a new album? "I had a chance to do theatre, which was a prayer God had answered for me. I wanted to do theatre for several years and I was getting offers but they were road tours and as a mother I don't like to leave home very often so I was turning a lot of theatre down, but asking God for a way for me to be able to do it. I'd also been asking God for an opportunity to come and live in London for a while and that was presented to me as an offer to come here to do the musical "Mama I Wanna Sing" and it was a way for me to see whether or not I had abilities as an actress, whether I could work within the confines of a much more disciplined system musically. Then I was offered a radio show with the BBC so I' m now on weekly on Radio 2 with my show, which is a show on gospel music, so another door opened up to me quite unexpectedly."

To give me an idea of how unexpected it was, she tells me "I'd never done radio before. I remember waking up one night, I fell asleep with the TV on and there was a commercial on TV. "Radio Disc Jockey, You too can have your own program, Call this number", So I got up and wrote the number down and I called."

After the call, Deniece was interested but forgot all about it! She laughs and says, "And here I am on radio and I said "oh boy!", You'd better watch what you think about and what you ask for!! And I'm absolutely loving it! It's not the easiest thing I've done, to interview people and I've always been on the other side of the microphone, now I m the one who's asking the questions, but what I do like about that is that because I've been on the other side, I've got compassion for the people I m talking to."

I wondered who Deniece had enjoyed talking to the most? " Oh boy", she laughs, "I've enjoyed a lot of people, I had an incredible conversation with Jazzy B and really loved that. Kenny Rogers, that was pretty amazing to hear him tell his story about gospel music and how he grew up in the church. Natalie Cole was incredible | just speaking about her dad and the fact that he used to sing gospel music around the house and he'd even perform some gospel. So it' s been very interesting, I think I've talked to some very interesting people. What about a fantasy guest in terms of somebody Deniece would really like to get on the air to talk to? Quick as a flash, she responds, " the Pope, I'd love to speak to the pope!"

I suggest that because it's been a while since she released an album, everyone thought she was probably just sitting at home taking it easy and putting her feet up. She laughs and responds, " I've never done that!, sounds good though!"

Instead of resting on her laurels, instead of simply performing in theatre and making a name for herself on BBC Radio, Deniece has returned to the Gospel music scene.

Deniece has been recording Gospel music a long time before she signing a contract to make Gospel albums, she recalls, "I have had gospel music on at least 9 of my 11 albums on Columbia records, and the reason being was that first of all I knew my grandmother might listen, she laughs, "but more than that it was because gospel music has always been the throb of my heart."

She's called the album 'This Is My Song' because "I think every song on the album is a personal testimony, it was a way to encourage myself when I was going through my trials and my challenges. I would go to my prayer closet and sing it is well with my soul, no weapon formed against me shall prosper, so it is well with my soul and I thought 'these songs are encouraging me and hopefully they will encourage some one else', but it started from within my own heart."

This Is My Song has allowed Deniece to shape an album which powerfully draws on songs from the past but it also gives them a fresh Urban nineties twist. She describes Standing in these terms, "It was written around one of those old songs "Standing On The Promises Of God" and we used to sing it in church all the time and I wanted to write a song with that in mind to encourage people because so many times we are standing on the promises of God and things are not happening as quickly as we'd like because we are a fast food, I want it now generation of people and that doesn't work with a timeless God."

Just As I Am represents a new sound for Deniece and she says, "That's probably one of my most daring tracks. I really wanted a song that would reach to young people that hadn't heard these songs and hadn't grown up with them the way we have."

It also represents the first moment that a rapper has been heard on a Williams's album. She says, "When we were writing the song we had this young rapper at the studio and he loves God so much and he wrote this rap and we said yeah go for it because there are a lot of young adults and kids in his age group that are gonna listen to that and be fed the word of God. So it was quite a change from anything I've every done. Feeding people the word of God is a strong motivating factor in Deniece's music. She explains, "I love the message of Just As I Am because so many people say to me, 'you know I would come to God but I'm living with my girl friend, or I would come to God but I can't give up my drugs, can t stop drinking', and I say 'Come and let God fix the situation, you can't fix the situation but God can', and that s what hat song means to me Just as I am, now I can come to God just as I am, you can come to God just as you are, and that's what we did with this song."

It's significant that the new album is a mixture of traditional songs with a modern slant and I wondered why she chose not to record a whole album of new material. Deniece explains, "I think that In the timeless classics, the music, and the message is so strong, has so much power, and we've gotten away from those messages but they still minister, and I knew that a lot of people hadn't heard those songs and certainly the younger audience would not be interested in those songs in their original state and felt it was important that we continue to make those songs available."

The song that touched me most on the album was Lover Of My Soul because I've been there and lived it! It's about being broken hearted and finding out that there's a place to go with that, to God! I asked Deniece to give some background on the song, "well I think one facet of the church is the single community" She says, "and you get to a certain age and they start looking at you and you know it's 'brother so and so is single, you guys need to get together and chat.' I think a lot of us make choices for relationships that are incorrect but the pressure is on. A lot of us just make bad choices because we don t want to wait on God and we don't want to handle God's way, we've got a guideline of how we're supposed to handle that, but we don't do that. That's because were fleshly people and we fail and I think relationships and marriage is a very touchy subject with the Christians."

So why does she think there are so few songs recorded that are realistic about the desires that people have? Deniece responds, " Well to be quite honest when I first wrote it, I told my record company president, I'm not going to put this song on the record. I thought a while before I did it because it was too personal and it was honest, it bore my soul and I didn't know if I wanted to do that. But I really felt as though it was going to touch somebody else because I'm not the only one who's going through this. I think this is going to encourage somebody to know that you're not going through it alone and at the end of the day that the answer is Jesus and going to Jesus and letting him love you up and letting him give you the strength to wait for the right relationship in life."

Deniece Williams has lived through the heartbreak and continued to be used by God. We finish our conversation with Deniece describing her ministry focus now that she has a number of different directions she could pursue. "Well media" she says, "the ability to communicate I think is one of the most powerful tools that we have and certainly I've seen that over the years that when my records have gone into Japan or into Africa or Brazil, countries that don t speak English but yet they know the music of Deniece Williams or they know the music of other artists and you can see how music touches anybody and everyone, I feel what better way to reach out to people and to touch them and to effect change in their lives than direct them to God and give them hope and encouragement and let them know there is victory in Jesus. "

She concludes, "So I consider now that music is my ministry, it always was but I didn't know that. Now I know, I want my ministry to present the gospel."

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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