Marion Williams - vocals
Prof. Thomas A. Dorsey - vocals
As part of a special tribute to "Gospel Queen" Mahalia Jackson, who passed away on January 27, 1972, Newport Jazz Festival impresario George Wein gathered some of the biggest names in gospel music, including Rev. Claude Jeter, the J.C. White Singers, The Sensational Nightengales, Dorothy Love Coates and the great Marion Williams. A singer of profound conviction and intensity, tempered by amazing grace and unmatched improvisational skills, Williams made a joyful noise that flooded Carnegie Hall on opening night of the 1975 festival.
Accompanied only by unnamed organist, pianist and backing singers, Williams opened her part of the show with "Standing Here Wondering, Which Way To Go," the Thomas A. Dorsey tune that Mahalia Jackson had recorded back in 1956 and which became a hit for Williams in 1971 (it was the title track of her Atlantic Records album that year). She unleashes her sanctified pipes on a rousing rendition of the gospel staple "Prayer Changes Things" then delivers a stirring "Just Over The Hill" before introducing Professor Thomas A. Dorsey, a most prolific writer who was also known as "the father of black gospel music." Dorsey, who was 76 at the time of this Carnegie Hall concert, delivers a spirited version of his best known composition, "Precious Lord Take My Hand," with Williams egging him on with shouts of encouragement before entering on the final verse with some gut-wrenching gospel holler testifying. On the next toe-tapper, she assures the Carnegie congregation that "If you live right, heaven belongs to you," then tries to encourage the assembled faithful to join on her trip to the New Jerusalem as she is "Packin' Up" and ready to go. She sends shivers through the house on an inspired version of "How I Got Over," the tune that Mahalia Jackson sang before 250,000 at the march on Washington D.C. in 1963 before Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream." Williams closes her 1975 Newport Jazz Festival set with the traditional benediction song, "God Be With You 'Til We Meet Again."
Born in Miami on August 29, 1927, Marion Williams came up inspired by gospel singers Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Smith Jubilee Singers. After relocating to Philadelphia, she joined the Ward Singers in 1946 and over time became the group's standout attraction. After spending 11 years with the Ward Singers, she helped formed the Stars of Faith in 1958 and eventually went solo in 1965. She became a popular figure touring college campuses in the States and throughout Europe through the '60s and early '70s. Williams passed away in Philadelphia on July 2, 1994 at age 66. (Bill Milkowski)