Julie Williams’ “Southern Curls” —
“my experience growing up as a mixed girl in the South with the “wrong kind of southern curls.”
Fearlessly forging ahead down country roads, singer-songwriter Julie Williams carries her mixed-race heritage proudly, just as she carries her tunes. Raised in Florida, Williams is turning heads in Nashville’s country music scene with the soft but powerful songs that capture the soul of growing up as a child of two worlds.
Music has always been a part of her life — honing her singing talent in church and beach bars and belting national anthems before packed stadiums. Even though she was drawn to the storytelling of country music, she never quite found the sound that spoke to everything she was: black, white, Southern, a woman, hopeful, truthful. So naturally, it was up to her to make this sound. “My music is mixed like me,” is how she describes it, “I want to tell the stories that need to be told.”
Read in your bio that your songs “capture the soul of growing up as a child of two worlds.” Our culture includes our heritage and tradition, as well as our creativity. Singing in church, at the beach, and at stadiums. Growing up in Florida, which artists inspired you, personally and artistically?
I was lucky, growing up in a mixed household, to hear a wonderful mix of music. In the backseat of my mom’s car, I heard the stories of The Chicks, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Indigo Girls, and 1970’s singer-songwriters that spoke of revolution. In my dad’s car, I jammed to Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Luther Vandross, and was soothed by the songs of Gladys Knight, Ella Fitzgerald and the Temptations. I heard stories and beats of rebellion, freedom, love, and soul that shaped who I am as an artist and as a person.
Duke University, degree in Public Policy, 2019. “My music is mixed like me. I want it to tell the stories that need to be told.” Sang as a vocalist for the Duke Jazz Ensemble. Found your songwriting voice in college. Can you share the turning point that helped you make the decision to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter?
There wasn’t an exact moment but a series of steps. When I co-wrote for the first time with my friend Serges Himbaza on my song “Take Me Home”— that was the first time that I felt my story reflected in a song and to see other people connect so deeply with a story we wrote gave me the confidence to be more and more vulnerable with what I share with the world. I opened for Mt. Joy a few years later to 700-plus person crowd and the energy I felt during that show was unlike anything in the world. It was magical, and I knew I wanted to chase that magic.
You had spoken with Rissi Palmer before moving to Nashville to better understand what you described as the “good, bad and ugly” of what it means to be a woman of color in country music. What advice did Palmer share that helped you confidently move to Music City?
She told me to never take a business meeting with a man past 6pm. That people in the industry are going to ask you questions that they would never ask a white artist, like “what are we going to do about your hair?” But she also told me that the people you meet in Nashville are some of the kindest, most helpful people and you will find folks that will feel like family and fight for you. I think getting an honest look at Nashville really helped me move here with open eyes and with more of an idea of what it was going to be like as an artist of color in Country music in this city.
Palmer’s Color Me Country Class of 2021 includes you, Ashlie Amber, Camille, Kären McCormick, and Kathryn Shipley. Palmer shared on her radio show her hope is to spotlight artists of color and those who have been marginalized in mainstream country music. She also launched the Color Me Country Artist Grant Fund to help support these underrepresented voices. As live music options continue to be limited, what are some ways independent artists can still have their breakout moments this year?
Right now is the time for connection. Everyone is turning to social media (Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube) for art, but also to connect with other people when they can’t in person. Right now is the time to send that cold email message, that Twitter DM, and connect with that person you’ve been meaning to.
I think you can look at another amazing artist who has been on Rissi’s show, Brittany Spencer, for an example of how independent artists can breakout. She has blown up this year and people have discovered her incredible artistry and songs without live concerts. While this year has limited our live music options, it has blown up our chances for connection virtually with other artists that you might never get the chance to work with. This year has also brought to light injustices and difficulties and people are looking to artists to help them heal and to shape the narrative. I write about this moment honestly and sing the songs that you were afraid to before. People want to hear them.
Song Suffragettes commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment (voters shall not be denied their rights based on their sex) with a Listening Room show with Lindsay Ell. Not all women were given that right with the amendment–it would be another 50 years before black women (and men) received their rights. You were active this past fall getting people to register and vote in the election. How can we continue to end voter suppression and intimidation?
Wow that is a tough question, but I love it. I am very passionate about people receiving the rights they deserve and voting is one of the most fundamental rights we have that so many people have fought and died for. While much of the change needed is systematic and on the policy level, as individuals we can encourage our friends and families to get registered, volunteer for local elections, phone bank, share voting information and bring people to the polls, and put pressure on our elected officials to end practices like gerrymandering and unnecessary voter ID laws that disproportionately affect voters of color. A huge first step would be restoring voting rights former felons. I was a public policy major, so I can go on all day! As an artist and someone with a platform, I have a responsibility to be informed and speak out on important issues, like voting, and use my platform to share information and resources when I can.
“Southern Curls” “I’ve learned to embrace my curls, my blackness, and everything that makes me glow (if there’s any physical symbol of how much I’ve grown the past year just look at the size of my hair.)” Your very personal song shares experiences growing up with the ‘wrong kind of southern curls.’ Fans helped fund the video costs to allow you to bring on a team of black creatives, people who have lived your story and understand the black experience. Can you share more about the directors, videographers, and editors who brought your story to life?
The music video would not have come together without the incredible team that I had.
Victor Tyler and Deion James from Dear Who Productions, my Director and Director of Photography respectively, are incredible. I knew that creating a music video from a song was already so visual and that was so heavily-based on my own experience was going to be tricky. The music video needed to complement but also take the story in ways that the song and lyrics couldn’t. Victor and Deion took this challenge and created a video more beautiful than I could have imagined. They breathed fire into my words and created visuals so stunning and perfect for the song, that I can’t remember the days when I sang those lines and didn’t see the images they created. Victor and Deion were also a joy to work with and a dream team for any artist.
Curry from Bead and Cowrie Productions was my Creative Director and Hair & Wardrobe Stylist. Curry is the best in the game. This video would not be as beautiful, moving, and powerful as it is without her expertise and creative genius. Every piece of clothing, the jewelry, the props, the curls — that was all Curry. Every artist — especially artists of color — need Curry on their team to make them look and feel good and bring their vision to life.
For a song about curls, it was important to me that hair was a central motif of the video — and that my curls were poppin’! Along with being a creative director, Curry is a master hairstylist and colorist and the founder of Black Beauty School, a class that aims to revolutionize the haircare industry that has been historically centered on whiteness. She trains stylists on how to work with Black hair textures and helps attendees understand how race and privilege contribute to Black Hair discrimination and trauma in the salon chair.
Brittany Muse was my makeup artist and made me glow! She is the owner of Artofficial Makeup, an LGBTQ friendly makeup and photography studio in Nashville. This was the first time I had my makeup done for a shoot by a black makeup artist, and I have never felt more comfortable in a makeup studio and with an artist!
Natalie Hawkins was the graphic designer of my single cover and the Southern Curls title that you see in the music video. She is a part of Design for Black Lives, a grassroots organization promoting change by connecting organizers, activists, and Black small/business owners with skilled pro/bono creatives.
The other two individuals who helped bring my story to life were Johnnea Leslie-Belle Wheeler, who played Young Julie, and Loren Gaiters, my grandmother’s sister who plays the Grandmother-figure in the music video. It was so important to me to show the passing down of Black strength through the generations and to have filmed a video with my great-aunt that will be in my family forever was extraordinary.
While this project was driven by Black creatives, there were a number of non-Black allies who worked on the video pro-bono and helped bring it to life! Genna Batson was my co-executive producer, MacKenzie Cornwall and Alejandra Torres were my photographers, and Sarah Qualle was our production assistant. They offered their time and expertise to this project and I am so grateful for their support.
Upcoming EP release, Mixed Feelings. You made a TikTok to share all the mixed feelings that come with being mixed. What else can fans expect to hear on the EP?
These past few years — graduating from college, moving to Nashville, a global pandemic — have led to so many “mixed feelings.” I’ve had mixed feelings — on my racial identify, love and loss, family, and my career — that I imagine that many people have been experiencing as well. I’ve experienced heart break and soul building, have had some of the highest highs and lowest lows. Fans can expect to get an insight on my life and what I was feeling at those times, but also where I am headed as an artist and human!