The Evolution of Cynda Williams
Film and music are two amazingly beautiful elements that come together to create something quite magical. Actors and singers have been granted the most glorious platform that allows their undeniable talent to shine bright like a diamond for the entire world to see. Cynda Williams has known the gift of song since she was a little girl. Growing up in a family of singers, it would be her move to New York which would spark the beginning of her professional acting and singing career. Her debut film Mo’ Better Blues was an unforgettable journey that showed the world she was more than just an amazing actor. Her song Harlem Blues went #1 on the R&B charts and will forever be a classic. Cynda has acted in numerous films and television roles and she has no plans to stop anytime soon. As an actress, singer, producer, screenwriter, songwriter, author, and inspirational voice, Cynda continues to show the world she has a beautiful voice in more ways than one.
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, you also spent part of your early childhood in Indiana, where you sang in your grandfather’s church. What do you remember most from this time in your life?
I was born and raised on the south side of Chicago up to about fourteen years old and then we moved to Muncie Indiana. My father stayed in Chicago, and my mother, my brothers, and at that point, my first youngest sister all moved to Indiana because the crime was getting quite bad where we lived. It was what they call The Wild 100s now. It was beautiful for the time we were there, but then the drugs and all of this and gang activity were starting to take over.
I was so excited to go to Muncie because that's where my grandfather Reverend J.C. Williams was pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church. Methodist churches are known quite well for, you know, orthodoxy and stuff like that but our church was very different than that. It was a mixed congregation which was not very often seen in those days. We were a very creative church, there was a lot of music, a lot of dancing, acting, and writing. We did at all. I was very excited and throughout my childhood, I'd gone there every summer. I was a part of the choir and everything but unfortunately when I moved to Indiana things kind of fell apart in my family. My parents ended up divorcing, my grandparents ended up divorcing, my aunts and uncles. It was like everything fell apart, the church fell apart, so it was a difficult time in my life, so that's when I really started focusing on school primarily.
I had some wonderful teachers in high school that really encouraged me and it was a huge departure from my Chicago experience where I had primarily black students, and teachers, but now it’s almost all white. There was quite a bit of racism. My teacher Nancy Krause was an English teacher and a theater teacher and she did all the shows. She made so many opportunities open up for me against the will and wishes of many of the other parents, and of the students, but she didn't care and I will never forget her for that and that saved me. The music that I sang, I sang in the choirs and that really got me through that time of division in my life. It was one of the most difficult times in my life but it changed me and sent me in a direction.
As a lover of music, I lose myself in the way a singer is able to deliver a song and make it unforgettable. I am mesmerized whenever I hear Harlem Blues. As perfect as perfection can be, you have an amazingly beautiful voice and to put it simply, you sang that song! Did you have any idea this song would have such an impact on shaping the culture of music?
I have always been a singer and that's where I began before acting, before writing, before anything else, I was a singer. My uncle, James Williams taught me how to sing when I was a very little girl, he was a professional singer at the time and so he really knew what he was doing. More importantly to me, it wasn't just about the vocals because my parents both sang, a lot of people in my family sang, my grandmother sang, she sounded like Billie Holiday. Had a lot of singers, but what he taught me that was so important was how to perform, how to perform that song, and how to interpret the music. When I got the opportunity to do Harlem Blues I was very blessed by that because it was such a beautifully written song and it was originally by W. C. Handy. Raymond Jones came in and took the lyrics from that turn of the century song, put a more contemporary sound on it, and changed the melody, but they stuck true to those lyrics and it was impressive to so many people. To be honest, I really wasn't thinking about the impact that it was going to have, I really didn't know, it didn't even occur to me. I was just singing like I’d always been singing. I'm very thankful that people love the song. I look forward to the day when I can do more music that they recognize and love.
AJ is a creative writer and storyteller writing from her home in Indiana.
"This is how you do it; you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard." -Neil Gaiman