Gina Williams’ passion for music is too strong to be defined by a single genre or confined to a single format. The Canadian-American artist is a composer, pianist, singer and producer (as well as a television and film actor). She has released original albums in styles including gospel, rock, classical and pop, and she will share her musical gifts and uplifting message with locals when she returns to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts for a concert on May 15.
The self-proclaimed “musical empath” said his music “stems from the desire to connect with people, to relate to people.” And when she feels called in an artistic direction, she follows that call. As the tagline on the merchandise offered in its online store says, “My favorite genre is music.”
Remarkably, Williams said her songs and scores came to her fully formed and orchestrated, and she remembered every bit.
“I’ve been hearing finished music in my head since I was 4. It’s like someone is turning on a radio in my head,” she said, reflecting on the gift she attributes to divine inspiration. “It blows my mind. It’s really surreal.”
According to his mother, Williams was singing before he could speak. Growing up as a daughter of West Indian parents in Edmonton, Alberta, she sang in church and began piano lessons around age 8. the windowsill.
Although she always found joy in music, she struggled to fit in and faced racism, she said, recalling a painful memory of being called a racial slur .
“If there was a sport you did on your own, I did it. I would play hopscotch with my shadow. I would sit by the wall and cry all recess. bullied and harassed,” she said. For much of her life, she felt she had to downplay her musical abilities, fearing being called a “genius” for fear of further ostracism.
“I didn’t want people to know what I could do. If you do something that a lot of people don’t do, people turn it around and assume you’re arrogant, that you’re ostentatious,” he said. -she adds. said. “The judgments are still as damning as ever.”
But her love and talent for music of all kinds couldn’t be suppressed, and she always chafed at the idea that “if you don’t choose a label, you’re not a serious artist”. She earned a master’s degree in piano and her resume includes being commissioned to write the 25th anniversary of Grenada’s independence anthem (“Glory”) in 1999 and winning the international competition. Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies 2019 Call for Scores featuring “Reverence”, the closing song. on her 2017 “Olympiad” album. a singing contest.)
Although she has released several albums over the years, it was the 2020 murder of George Floyd and the ensuing civil unrest that prompted her to put aside once and for all any concerns about trying to conform to established notions of what she as an artist should be.
“The biggest thing for me with George Floyd is that he was a man who wasn’t fighting back; he was trying to conform. I saw myself in him,” she said. “People said my art was like a giant, and I tried to conform, make everyone feel safe, or whatever. I just need to be me -same.”
With that in mind, in the last year she boldly released five albums in five different genres (classical, gospel/folk, Caribbean pop, electronic dance music and rock) and currently runs five YouTube channels (“for now”, she said with a laugh, charting future plans). “They’re my kids,” she said of her various musical endeavors. “Who can tell you who I love the most? I can’t choose which child I love the most!”
Not being tied to a label gives her the freedom to take on whatever projects she wants without having to conform to an expected brand or image. However, being totally freelance also means a lot of hard work and 16-hour days, balancing business and booking duties with artistic duties.
“I have to divide my days between Gina the singer, Gina the pianist, Gina the composer…” she says.
His work has a global reach. She has written and/or performed in 12 different languages and toured internationally, and she developed particularly close ties with Ukraine during her lifetime, largely through the influence of a close friend of the family who became his adoptive grandmother. From their relationship, she gained not only a deep appreciation for Ukrainian culture and language, but also a lesson in love, trust and open-mindedness transcending racial or cultural barriers. When his grandmother first offered to teach him Ukrainian, Williams was hesitant.
“I was rejecting his culture like I felt rejected as a black kid,” she recalls. But the older woman’s unwavering embrace made him realize the strength of their bond.
“She didn’t see my skin, she saw me,” she said. “Grandma taught me not to look at people like I was conditioned as a kid. She saw the potential.”
Williams first visited Ukraine in person in 2017 and has been back and forth several times, performing on Ukrainian national radio and television several times. In Ukraine, she said, “I’m at home. These people really understand me.”
With the ongoing conflict in her adopted homeland, Williams wanted to give something back to the country that meant the world to her.
“It’s my family, they gave me so much,” she said.
She is donating part of the proceeds from her next performance to the non-profit humanitarian organization ADRA International and to the “Front of Ukrainian Artists”, a group of professional musicians affected by the crisis.
Since the Mountain View show will be a vocal and piano solo performance, Williams said she’ll likely feature selections from her jazz and classical repertoire primarily.
“If you go to one of my shows, you’re going to sing, you’re going to clap, I’m going to crack jokes,” she said. “It’s not, ‘sit and watch me all night;’ it’s a very interactive experience.”
As she unabashedly lets her inspiration guide her, Williams hopes her music will continue to reach and resonate with many, and inspire others to follow their passions and be authentic themselves.
“I want to reinforce each other and push as much as possible,” she said. “…We can do more than we think. I try to model that by example.”
Gina Williams performs at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 15 at SecondStage, Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $30 general admission/$27 for seniors, students, children, and veterans. Find more information at mvcpa.com.