Sharrie Williams | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sharrie Williams 

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At age 14 Sharrie Williams appeared on an album by the Soul Choir; a few years later, in the late 80s, she toured as a featured soloist with the Greater Williams Temple Inspirational Voices, a choir based at her church in Saginaw, Michigan. She even cut a record with that group that was produced by fabled gospel singer Mattie Moss Clark. But in the mid-90s, after she'd drifted away from the church and stopped singing (she was "having problems in [her] life," she explains), she turned to the blues to start over. In her current nightclub act she proudly proclaims her renewed faith and her victory over drugs and alcohol; she says she thinks of her "rockin' gospel blues" as a ministry, though she's far from self-righteous. On the 2001 release Sharrie Williams Live, recorded at the Saginaw club that's been her home base since '96 (a new studio album, Hard Drivin' Woman, is forthcoming this summer from Crosscut), her delivery ranges from an early-morning bedroom croon to a churchy wail. The disc's tour de force is a surprisingly powerful version of Prince's "Purple Rain": she adds spoken interludes that transform the song into a spiritual affirmation ("The purple is royal, and I love the Lord because he always, constantly reigns on me"), then cuts loose as though she's speaking (or rather singing) in tongues, screaming, shouting, and bawling like a baby. Toward the end of the tune, when she delivers a series of kittenish mews and lusty whoops capped with the line "That's how good He is to me," the link between religious ecstasy and carnal pleasure couldn't be more explicit. Williams is touring with her regular band, the Wiseguys. $12. Friday, June 25, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tom Burt.

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