Raleigh native and music artist, Mary D. Williams, visited Sampson County to share with students from Hobbton High School, as well as, Midway Elementary School, her spirituals in both spoken word and in song.
Williams is the mother of three boys, and is married to the love of her life. She is a professor at Duke University, where she proudly teaches the course, The South in Black and White, with emphasis on both black and white cultures. She began singing at the young age of fourteen, when a former middle school teacher praised Williams for her God given talent; that is what inspired Williams to pursue this pathway of both history and vocal performances.
She has traveled far and wide while spreading the history of slavery in song. Places such as Las Vegas, Nevada and Paris, France are just two of her many past destinations. Williams has also been a special guest on the Bobby Jones Gospel Show several times.
When asked where the most memorable location you have performed your spirituals at, Williams replied, “I go to the homeless shelter every month as well as the women and men’s detention centers and just talk with them. They make you feel like they are so honored to have you.”
Starting out as a first soprano in middle school, the first song she learned was an Italian Operatic piece. With no vocal training to aid her, she now has a vocal range from first soprano to tenor and believes, “it found me rather than me finding it” in regards to her passion for singing traditional music.
During her visit at Hobbton, Williams had students participating in numerous call and response style songs from the Freedom Movement. This humble artist has based her whole music career off of emotion and whatever is being felt in a specific moment.
“When you have a gift, a place will be made for you… don’t expect to win the world… let your followers build you up and support you,” Williams said.
Williams’ visit was made possible by a combined effort from Chris Carroll and Ragan Pearson, history teachers at Hobbton High School. Pearson and Carroll applied for a Simple Gifts grant at the beginning of the school year to help provide Hobbton High students with opportunities to experience and learn about history in a variety of ways.
According to Pearson, “I had heard Mrs. Williams speak at a conference this past summer, and my sister (Jessica Barefoot a second grade teacher at Midway Elementary) and I thought this would be a wonderful way for students to learn more about the history of enslavement and the Civil Rights Movement in America. Mrs. Williams provides a perspective and literally a voice that our kids just do not usually get to hear.”