Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Blues/soul singer Sharrie Lynn Williams grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, in the Daniel Heights Projects, about a hundred miles from Detroit, where she posed in front of the mirror, her hairbrush for a microphone, pretending to be Diana Ross. Saginaw has a long musical history: Charles Harrison wrote ‘After The Ball’ there, a huge hit over a hundred years ago that was the foundation of Tin Pan Alley when Harrison moved his publishing to New York. Since then, bandleader Isham Jones, alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt, Stevie Wonder, Larry McCray and many others have come out of Saginaw. Williams grew up in the church, singing from an early age, her voice so developed that she was singing with the adult choir when she was 16, and the choir of the Greater Williams Temple Church of God in Christ was well-known all over the state. She sang with the Saginaw High Jazz Band, which also included guitarist James Owens, and which toured Jamaica. She fell prey to the usual temptations, soon divorced twice with two kids and on welfare, but the church didn't let her down; local playwright Mary Washington took her under her wing and got her involved in drama around 1993, and she sang with a band called Blues Controversy, white guys from Bay City. They were good musicians, but music was their hobby; Williams knew it would be her life. They made a self-produced CD called 1 BC, but it didn't portray Williams very well.

By 1996 she was singing in a Saginaw club called Wiseguys. The house band brought her on late at night, and the management complained about that, knowing that people were coming to hear Williams. Pretty soon the leader said, ‘It's me or her,’ and the management said, ‘So long, keep in touch,’ and Williams had her own band. Meanwhile, she was becoming a stronger woman. Pete ‘Pops’ Crawford, an older Italian man whose son owned Wiseguys, was getting friendly, and this time Williams was careful. But Pops was on her side. When she was tempted to mess with drugs, Pops told her to straighten out or the relationship was over. They were still together nearly ten years later. They have a catering business, but Williams says, ‘I do music because I love it. You have to love it, to go without sleep and not get paid much.’

In mid-1996, without the band, she sang in Las Vegas and in Chicago, where homeboy McCray was playing with Buddy Guy's Blues Legends. British producer Mike Vernon heard her, and they made an album in a Chicago studio, but the company fell apart. Williams issued the eponymous album two years later on her own Faith 3 label, soon followed by Live At Wiseguys. Williams has been touring Europe and Blues festivals since 2001, her reputation growing. The Wiseguys had become keyboardist Pietro Toucher from Italy, bassist Marco Franco and drummer Sterling Brooks, both from Detroit, and James Owens. He had become a very good guitarist, but he was shy, and Williams had to keep pushing him out front; now he's the music director. Sharrie and the Wiseguys put out their album Hard Drivin' Woman on Crosscut in 2004. She writes songs about real life, not just with a gospel feeling, but with a gospel attitude. ‘Our souls need healing,’ she says. She knows first-hand the importance of a role model.