Poverty caused Williams to leave school at fourteen, 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, however, in spite of pressure to switch to popular blues tunes or the opera. Williams was invited to join the Ward Singers when they heard her singing during a visit to her sister 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. Dissatisfied with the low pay she was receiving while starring for the group, Williams left the Ward Singers in 1958, followed by most of the rest of the group, to form the Stars of Faith. The Stars of Faith was unable, however, to reproduce the success the Ward Singers had enjoyed, as Williams retreated from the spotlight to give other members of the group more opportunity to star. The group's career recovered, however, in 1961, when it appeared in Black Nativity, an off-Broadway production, and toured across North America and Europe. 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". In 1991, she performed as a gospel singer in the film Fried Green Tomatoes, though her scene is available only in the director's cut. The movie was dedicated to her.
She was honored as a MacArthur Fellow in 1993 and died in 1994.  External links * http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4784252 Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
show me more