No matter what stage Indy's Brenda Williams finds herself on, the acclaimed jazz singer intends to create a radiating atmosphere. Whether she's singing Broadway tunes in an exquisite theater or smooth jazz in a cluttered club in town, Williams uses her vibrant voice and alluring charm to continually cultivate a flourishing environment at every one of her performances.
"I'm going to call it Spring," she says. "You know how when the sun comes out, and, all of a sudden, the flowers start blooming? Well, I see that in faces -- they start blooming and smiling in front of you."
This weekend Williams will be one of 12 diverse musical acts performing at the 44th annual Broad Ripple Art Fair. Taking place on the grounds of the Indianapolis Art Center, its ArtsPark, and the North Side Optimist Opti-Park, Williams' genial jazz performance will mark her first ever appearance at the fair as she helps in kicking off Indy's summer of fun.
In her many years of performing, Williams has seen much success, both as an actor and singer. After moving from Billings, Montana, (where she was Second Runner-Up to the Mrs. America Title) to Indy in 1991, she began to gain recognition in the Indianapolis area with her award-winning performances in the American Cabaret Theatre, the Indiana Repertory Theatre and Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre. Following this initial 10-year theater stint, Williams says she began singing more of what came naturally, leading her down the jazzier path she finds herself on now.
Throughout her illustrious career, "Miss B" has been an opening act for headliners such as Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Lee Greenwood, Chuck Mangione and more. Equally impressive is the fact that she has performed for three U.S. presidents -- although, when asked which presidents, Williams replies bashfully.
"You see, if I tell you that I'm gonna have to kill ya because that makes me old," she says, chuckling.
Nevertheless, the seasoned singer can still look back on her work and be proud of the apex she has reached.
"I am happy to say I've gotten to the status of ... if you type in 'Brenda Williams Indianapolis,' you get something -- every now and then, you get a picture," she says. "To me, that means I've arrived."
Although she mostly sticks to concerts nowadays, Williams prefers the title of "performer" rather than "singer," saying, "I'm concerned about the audience and how they are relating during a performance." She admits she learned what her "best assets" were at a young age, helping her to become the complete artist she is today.
This dazzling confidence has likewise carried over to the versatile set of venues she regularly captivates.
"Anyone couldn't do a performance at a theater and then turn around and do a benefit, or break it down to doing an evening with a big band," Williams says. "All of those things come from experience."
After making the decision years ago to stop pursuing shows outside of the state for family purposes, Williams has actually found that many in the Indianapolis area are unaware that she is still performing.
"I used to be performing so much that I never had any time to reflect or be a part of my family's life," Williams remembers. "They [her children] always said, 'Oh, well Mom's gotta work.' That's all well and good, but they're all gone and grown."
She now plans to perform as long as there's breath in her body, letting her vivacious voice rain down on ears of all ages, whether it be an intimate show at the Jazz Kitchen or a torrential rock 'n' roll explosion elsewhere.
"There are a lot of new people who don't know what I do -- they may see me doing a jazz thing where things are kind of laid-back," Williams says. "But then, I've got three rock 'n' roll bands that I perform with. When we get a chance to go into some place and perform, they're like, 'Wow! We've never heard you do this.'"
"I'm like a wonderful antique Porsche -- still beautiful and still performing," she concludes, laughing.