From backup singing to the front of the stage


I’d like to make a comment on the present state of the music industry, and for me to do that I’d like to ask you to think back to your favorite concert. Who did you see? Was it Carrie Underwood? Or Beyoncé? Maybe Stevie Wonder or Sam Smith? I want you to conjure up that experience again. Are you there? Can you hear that sweet melody of that singer’s voice? Now I’d like you to broaden that memory to include the backup singers. Do you remember what they sounded like? How their voices came together to accompany the presence of that headliner, to boost that experience? There was a time in music where the backup singers made the track.


A recent Brantford concert was headlined by none other than the famous Darlene Love. For those of you who do not know who Love is, she has a very extensive music resume. Love was a backup singer in the 60s for the likes of Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley and Dionne Warwick to name a few. She also sang as the lead vocalist for The Blossoms. Her voice catapulted her into stardom. She has starred in Broadway hits such as Grease and Hairspray. Love was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2011, and these facts are only the tip of the iceberg.


Love spent a majority of her career transitioning from the background to the foreground. Love’s voice has the power to resonate in one’s spirit. Now, I don’t believe that type of power comes easy. Which had me wondering – what does it take to make that leap from background vocals to headliner? Is it egotism, pride or confidence? How about the ever illusive it factor? How does one prepare mentally or emotionally for such a leap? I decided to go in search of another backup singer to learn the process.


Which brings me to Lisa Williams. Williams is a young women with a gift to sing. She leads song service every other Sunday at Logos Apostolic Church of Reconciliation in Toronto. Many great singers started singing in the church, discovering their voice and learning to hone their skills and Williams is no different. “I think my discovery [of my voice] happened at a young age. Being sort of born into the church I was already surrounded by music. It gave me the opportunity to sing a little note. So my parents put me into the children’s choir and it was a wow moment. Like ‘wow, she’s not just making noise she can actually sing.’” These moments singing in church opened up doors for Williams to other opportunities and she surrounded herself with other like-minded artists. “That’s how I networked with Sheldon Neil. He asked me to come on board with his project [an album called Y-Evolution],” Williams said.

As far as leaping from backup singing to leading, Williams explained “there is a huge difference. Not so much in the enjoyment but in the involvement. There was a lot of added pressure, because you’re not just singing for the enjoyment but also for the quality. On a Sunday morning there is less pressure but there is still expectation.”

Williams’ voice can stand out on its own or it can blend to harmonize with other vocalists. She has obvious talents, so why hasn’t she made that leap from backup to forefront? Williams said “there was an opportunity for me to take that leap. My thoughts were, ‘are you sure? Me?’ The hesitation lay in, ‘did I really believe in my talents?’ Singing in the background it was really easy to get comfortable. You can be an amazing singer but there’s that it factor that people talk about all the time. You can be an amazing vocalist but putting yourself in the foreground really takes that it factor.”

All these moments helped Williams grow and learn as a singer. “They were all pivotal moments for me to grow my love for this art,” she explained. And who knows, maybe the next time opportunity comes knocking Williams will be willing to take that extra leap.

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