Michelle Williams: The story of her gospel hit "Say Yes"

Friday 9th June 2017

Tony Cummings talked to gospel diva MICHELLE WILLIAMS about her Nigeria-origin hit

Michelle Williams
Michelle Williams

The crowd at the Big Church Day Out North are ignoring the rain shower and dancing and singing as Michelle Williams leads them through the propulsive African flavoured beat. "When Jesus say yes, nobody can say no!" The line rings out again and again and seems to energise the happy throng of festival goers. As Michelle told me before her performance, "I can't sing anywhere without doing that song."

"Say Yes" was the third single from Michelle's 'Journey To Freedom' album and is the gospel diva's biggest hit since leaving Destiny's Child. In fact Destiny's Child's other former members Beyonce and Kelly Rowland add their considerable vocal skills to Michelle's recording and the temporarily-reformed trio are featured on the "Say Yes" video. That video was of course much watched and favourably received from the critics with Rolling Stone magazine praising the "feel good vibes" and Zakiya Yamal writing in People magazine stating that the traditional choreography and drums were inspired by Africa. Indeed they were. Although "Say Yes" is written by Michelle Williams, Carmen Reece, Al Sherrod Lambert and Harmony Samuels, who also produced it, the song is actually based on a traditional African praise number "When Jesus Says Yes", a song which has been recorded by such African music luminaries as Nigeria's Agatha Moses and South Africa's Soweto Gospel Choir.

Michelle spoke about the song. "This song seemed to resonate with so many people from various walks of life, different faiths, so I think it was the one song of my career that really made a difference. We want the blessings of God - we want him to say yes, but there are times when I have to be like, 'You know what God, I gotta say yes to you, I need to submit to you'. But the song specifically is an old Nigerian song, and in their dialect 'when Jesus say yes, nobody can say no', so it's basically like we said, he has the last say: Bob Marley, didn't he have a song saying 'What God bless, no man can curse'? So it's kind of the same thing."

Michelle continued, "We are in such a time of negativity, and if we can just hold onto positive words, affirmations and declarations, and in such a dark world, I have to continue to be a person that carries the light. We all have to say that - I have to carry light no matter what, and so that's what 'Say Yes' says to me. It also says that, regardless of what people say, Jesus has the last word, he has the final say, he has ALL the say! So, I can't worry about what someone else says, even though I have to respect someone's opinion - if it's not derogatory. Some people have opinions out of the simple fact that their seeking, they're searching and they don't know, so I try not to take things personally and get offended at all."

The singer has in the past had to deal with considerable criticism from conservative parts of the Church, most of it based around her long-term association with Destiny's Child. "I overcame [that criticism] when it was said in the first place - people have their own opinions, and so, had I not grown in my faith I'd probably sit at home and judge other people too. But now that I've grown in my faith and as long as God is pleased, and my mother is pleased, that's all that matters. When you know God's got your back and your mum has got your back you don't worry about anything! I don't worry about anything anymore. Me and my mother just had that conversation the other day, she told me that even she had to grow and know that her baby girl is 'gonna go out here and be okay. So, I've proven that I'm not 'gonna go TOO crazy." CR

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.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


Reader Comments

Posted by Sandra in Stoke-on-Trent @ 09:17 on Jun 19 2017

I love this song & the story behind it is also inspiring.

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