Bay Area Vocalist & Former American Idol Finalist Donnie Williams Wins Grand Prize in the Lionsgate/BET Network Sponsored Gospel & Blues Singing Contest, based on the current blockbuster hit film by Tyler Perry “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” while the singer prepares debut album Just Like Magic
Outshining hundreds of submissions Bay Area Vocalist Donnie Williams took home the Grand Prize during the Lionsgate/BET Networks 2009 Gospel & Blues Contest inspired by Tyler’s Perry current blockbuster smash “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” featuring Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige and Gladys Night. Pastor Winans who served as a judge on the panel exclaimed that Donnie was “The Winner By Far!” Donnie sang his new single “Higher Power,” reflecting upon his experience with alcohol and sobriety after the 2004 American Idol Finales, coincidentally paralleling the struggle of April’s character in the movie played by Taraji P. Henson.
Donnie Williams has been creating quite a stir around the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area over the past couple of years with his dynamic performances as lead vocalist of the electrifying band Park Place. Whether singing the national anthem at the NBA Warriors Basketball Games or opening up for rap superstar E-40 he is considered the “next” male vocalist in Northern California. As Williams prepares the release of his debut LP, Just Like Magic his reputation continues to spread among lovers of quintessential world-class soul singing. His dynamically explosive gospel-tinged voice is the heart and soul of the music while his vocal prowess has the kind of depth and nuance that invites comparisons to Stevie Wonder and James Brown. His mastery of stringing words together to make flawless, relevant lyrics gives him staying power for decades to come.
In 2004 on the #1 rated TV Show American Idol Donnie sang the proverbial Donny Hathaway tune “A Song for You” and blew the judges away. Williams recalls Jackson telling him, “You’re better than all the people we have heard throughout all the seasons.”‘ Even Cowell’s take on his singing was affirmative, and Williams was put through to Hollywood. Williams made it into the Top 32, along with Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson, and his friend LaToya London, and seemed a sure shot for the Top 12. But one night before he was slated to return to Hollywood for the next segment of the reality show, he was invited to a celebratory party thrown by friends. He had too much to drink and was arrested on the way home for driving under the influence. News of the arrest traveled fast, and the producers of American Idol kicked him off the show and replaced him with George Huff. Williams was devastated.
Now 5 years later with a fresh outlook on life Donnie is ready to release Just Like Magic. The album was co-produced by Park Place band leader Paul Tillman Smith whose compositions have been recorded in past years by such singers as Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carne, Lady Bianca, Freddie Hughes, Derrick Hughes, Lenny Williams, Rosie Gaines, and the late Prince vocalist Bonnie Boyer. Multi-instrumentalist Nelson Braxton (Frank McComb, Martin Luther, Ledisi, Braxton Brothers) and Norman Connors additionally serve as co-producers of the CD while Connors says Donnie is one of those rare vocalists who comes along maybe every thirty years, Braxton calls him the “LeBron James of R&B.”
The album boasts a supporting cast that reads like a “Who’s Who” from the annals of R&B and Pop lore: Keyboardist and hip-hop MC Kev Choice (Voted by East Bay Express as “The Most Multi-Talented Musician”) and who served as the musical tour director for Lauryn Hill in both 2006 and 2007. On keys Kev Choice has supported such artists as Michael Franti & Spearhead, Goapele, Too Short, Martin Luther, Jennifer Johns, DJ Quik and Zion I. Music can be heard from Keyboardist Sundra Manning who is most well known for her collaborative work alongside Grammy Nominated vocalist Ledisi on the debut album Soulsinger. Other brilliant cameos include vocalists Rosie Gaines and Bonnie Boyer (Prince), Keyboardists Michael Stanton, Rodney Franklin & Herman Jackson (musical director for Jessica Simpson, Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye) Eric Daniels (musical director for Mariah Carey & Janet Jackson), Sax men Scott Mayo (Earth, Wind and Fire), Vince Lars & Charlie Spikes (Tony Toni Tone), Guitarists Carl Lockett and Tommy Oregon (Janet Jackson), drummer Brian Collier and the Oak Town Horns who comprise some of the Bay Area’s finest horn players.
The astonishing vocal deftness of Donnie Williams permeates on Just Like Magic. In a time when many R&B stars have become further and further removed from the folks that they speak to with their custom made looks and unattainable lifestyles, Donnie remains a lot like us: a tender, tough, self-possessed young man who puts his community before commercial concerns. Composing an intricately crafted and cohesive body of work that illuminates his unequaled musicianship, Donnie only scratches the surface of what he is capable of.