Marion Williams (August 29, 1927 – July 2, 1994) was born in Miami, Florida, to a religiously devout mother and musically inclined father. She left school when she was nine years old to help support the family, and worked as a maid, a nurse, and in factories and laundries. She began singing in front of auiences while young. As was common in the area, Williams learned African-American blues and jazz, alongside Caribbean calypso. Poverty caused Williams to leave school at an early age, working with her mother at a laundry. She was singing at church and on street corners, inspired by a wide range of musicians, including Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Smith Jubilee Singers. She stuck with gospel in spite of pressure to switch to popular blues tunes or the opera.
Marion Williams -- Were You There When They Crucified My Lord
In 1946, while visiting a friend in Philadelphia, Williams happened to sing before an audience that included Clara and Gertrude Ward. They recognized her talent and offered her a job. A year later, she became part of the famous Ward Singers. Her growling, hands-on-the-hips vocal style made her the group’s undisputed star.
In 1958, she and other members of the Ward group formed the Stars of Faith. In 1965, Williams began her solo career. For the next 15 years, she toured the United States, Africa and the West Indies.
Williams was invited to join the Ward Singers when they heard her singing during a visit to a close friend in Philadelphia in 1946. Williams did so in 1947, staying with them for eleven years. Her first recording with the group was “How Far Am I from Canaan” (1948), followed by the breakthrough “Surely God Is Able”, which launched Williams and the rest of the group into superstardom. Their concerts were mobbed by frenzied fans.
In 1965, Williams began a solo career but soon returned to Miami for her mother’s funeral. While there, she felt reinspired to continue her career and began touring college campuses across the country. Her perhaps best-known hit is from this period — Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go.