We provide music development opportunities for under-served youth
Our fund helps send professional musicians & recording engineers into schools to work with students who are eager to learn
about the music business.
HELPING OUR YOUNG MUSIC STUDENTS LEARN HOW TO PLAY WITH THE PROFESSIONALS
Over the years, with his groups Vitamin E, Bridge, and now Park Place, songwriter, producer, and drummer Paul Tillman Smith has featured some of the most amazing soul singers on the planet. They include Lady Bianca Thornton, Freddie Hughes and his son Derrick, American Idol finalist Latoya London,, Rosie Gaines and the late Bonnie Boyer (of Prince & the Revolution renown). His latest discovery is Donnie Williams.
Smith didn't actually "discover" Williams, but did, in a sense, "rescue" the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-born, Livermore, California-based vocalist. American Idol judges Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, and Randy Jackson had given the then-20-year old singer his first national exposure by voting him into the 2004 season's top 32. Williams blew the opportunity, however. The night before he was to return to Hollywood for the next segment, he attended a celebratory party given by friends and was arrested for driving under the influence while on his way home. He was promptly booted from the show and replaced by George Huff.
After achieving sobriety with help from Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12-Step program, Williams was asked by Smith to join Park Place. Just Like Magic, the singer's critically-acclaimed 2007 debut CD with the group, included "Higher Power," a gospel-imbued anti-substance abuse ballad written by Smith. Two years later, Williams entered a homemade video of himself singing the song in the "I Can Do Good Gospel & Blues Video Competition," a national contest held by BET in conjunction with the Tyler Perry motion picture I Can Do Bad All By Myself. Williams won first place.
The singer delves even deeper into the concept of redemption through faith in God and belief in his own ability to resist temptation on this, his second recording with Park Place. "Your higher power will save your soul from the Devil," he wails on the churchy Smith composition "Morning Star." "Hold your head up high to the sky and let God make a way," Williams advises on his self-penned "I Ran." Even his stirring rendition of "Someday We'll All Be Free" by Donny Hathaway, who rivals Stevie Wonder as Williams' primary vocal influence, carries a similarly hopeful message. Also included is a reprise of "Higher Power," now a softer, more jazz-influenced treatment. And, quite appropriately, the disc ends with track 12, "Steps," which contains a recitation of AA's 12 Steps.
Steps offers further testimony to Donnie Williams' prowess as a singer. One of the most deeply soulful and technically accomplished vocalists of our time, he has integrated his natural tenor tones and his high falsetto to create, with seemingly little effort, a breathtaking style all his own. But, perhaps most importantly, Steps stands as proof of how, though belief in a higher power, one can fight against adversity and emerge triumphant.
(Hildebrand is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Post, East Bay Express, and Living Blues.)