“You’re better than all the people we have heard throughout all the seasons.” Randy Jackson
Former American Idol Finalist Donnie Williams returns to center stage with debut album Just Like Magic featuring a soulful blend of tracks conjuring up the memory of Sam Cooke, James Brown, Bebe Winans & Ronald Isley including an all-star cast of musicians Norman Connors, LaToya London, Kev Choice, Rosie Gaines and Park Place as the Baton Rouge born and Bay Area based vocalist who wowed judges during a rendition of Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You” prepares to join his former idolmates Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson and LaToya London in the spotlight
“Donnie Williams might have given Fantasia Barrino some serious competition on “American Idol” if he hadn’t been bounced from the show early in 2004 after a drunken-driving arrest. He’s a soul stylist of the first order. Williams sings in radiant, remarkably elastic tenor tones, suggesting the influences of Ronald Isley & Lenny Williams. Love ballads dominate the disc, but the James Brown-flavored “Funky Times” offers a change of pace as Williams duets with American Idol finalist LaToya London. London is also featured on two other tracks, including a hip-hop-infused remake of “Send My Baby Back,” a 1968 hit by Berkeley vocalist Freddie Hughes.”
“The passion, conviction and sincerity of Donnie Williams, Terrell and 60s soul legend Freddie Hughes (“Oo wee Baby, I Love You,” “You Can’t Take It Away”) are all right on time. A highlight from Williams’ debut album Just Like Magic, the lead track “Higher Power” is again performed by Williams in a 70s soul balladeer style that would have done Peabo Bryson and Donnie Hathaway proud. Fellow American idol Latoya London and half of the Braxton Brother jazz duo, Nelson Braxton, provide angelic backing on the silky cut. A warm duet between Donnie and Terrell, “Darkness To Light,” continues the old school spirit, this one reminiscent of classic Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.”
“Best R&B/Soul Singer 2008”
“Donnie Williams may not grin as much as George Huff did, but he can sing circles around him — in ringing, remarkably pliant high-tenor tones, often executing long sustains that he follows, without stopping to take a breath, with strings of pitch-perfect, rapid-fire melismata. And might have given season winner Fantasia a serious run for the crown had he not messed up. The Baton Rouge-bred vocalist rebounded — last year as the frontman of Park Place. The terrific CD of Quiet Storm-friendly tunes titled Just Like Magic, also features younger sister Terrell Williams, who may well be the second best soul singer in the East Bay.”
Los Angeles, California – May 18, 2009 – Donnie Williams has been creating quite a stir around the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area over the past couple of years with his dynamic performances as lead vocalist of the electrifying band Park Place. Whether singing the national anthem at the NBA Warriors Basketball Games or opening up for rap superstar E-40 he is considered the “next” male vocalist in Northern California. As Williams prepares the release of his debut LP, Just Like Magic his reputation continues to spread among lovers of quintessential world-class soul singing. His dynamically explosive gospel-tinged voice is the heart and soul of the music while his vocal prowess has the kind of depth and nuance that invites comparisons to Stevie Wonder and James Brown. His mastery of stringing words together to make flawless, relevant lyrics gives him staying power for decades to come.
In its “Best of the East Bay 2008 issue,” the East Bay Express Newspaper named the Baton Rouge, Louisiana-born Williams “The Best R&B or Soul Singer” next to female chanteuse Goapele who won “Reader’s Choice Award.” Before relocating to the Bay Area in 2000 Donnie Williams made his recording debut singing hooks on CD’s for notable Bay Area hip hop groups and opened up shows for local famed artists like E-40 and Tony Tone’ Toni. In 2004 after being encouraged by a co-worker Williams made the trek to Los Angeles in order to audition in front of Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson on what is now one of the most popular TV shows in America. He sang the proverbial Donny Hathaway tune “A Song for You” and blew the American Idol judges away. Williams recalls Jackson telling him, “You’re better than all the people we have heard throughout all the seasons.”‘ Even Cowell’s take on his singing was affirmative, and Williams was put through to Hollywood.
Williams made it into the Top 32, along with Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Hudson, and his friend LaToya London, and seemed a sure shot for the Top 12. But one night before he was slated to return to Hollywood for the next segment of the reality show, he was invited to a celebratory party thrown by friends. He had too much to drink and was arrested on the way home for driving under the influence. News of the arrest traveled fast, and the producers of American Idol kicked him off the show and replaced him with George Huff. Williams was devastated. The singer quit drinking. His sobriety is reflected in the ballad “Higher Power” on Just Like Magic and particularly in the anti-substance abuse message.
Now 5 years later with a fresh outlook on life Donnie is ready to release Just Like Magic. The album was co-produced by Park Place band leader Paul Tillman Smith whose compositions have been recorded in past years by such singers as Phyllis Hyman, Jean Carne, Lady Bianca, Freddie Hughes, Derrick Hughes, Lenny Williams, Rosie Gaines, and the late Prince vocalist Bonnie Boyer. Multi-instrumentalist Nelson Braxton (Frank McComb, Martin Luther, Ledisi, Braxton Brothers) and Norman Connors additionally serve as co-producers of the CD while Connors says Donnie is one of those rare vocalists who comes along maybe every thirty years, Braxton calls him the “LeBron James of R&B.” Williams credits Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway as influences and also includes gospel singers Mario Winans and Dorinda Clark-Cole among his favorites. Like Hathaway, Williams integrates his natural tenor tones and his high falsetto in an effortless manner, which he notes is a technique that took him years of practice to perfect.
Williams’ soaring tenor is featured on countless tracks from Just Like Magic including the inspirational lead single “Higher Power” which permeates a sense of hope. Guest vocalist LaToya London appears on the hip-hop infused remake of “Send My Baby Back,” a 1968 hit by Berkeley vocalist Freddie Hughes. London additionally materializes in a duet on the title track “Just Like Magic.” On “Running,” the self-penned mid-tempo ballad that opens up the album Williams sings in glowing tones reminiscent of both Donny Hathaway and Ronald Isley. Later in the tune, after addressing the trials and travails of life, he cries out, “A change gonna come, yes it is, yes it is,” reflecting a Sam Cooke-like optimism. The tracks “Always Be,” “Given You Everything,” “Feels So Right,” “Show Me Yours,” “Splashing,” and “Remember the Day” are all filled with sensually cascading curlicues, stunning leaps of register, and breathtaking sustains. Shades of Stevie Wonder and Lenny Williams crop up here and there, yet it quickly becomes obvious that Williams is a strikingly original stylist in the classic soul love-man tradition. Several songs from Just Like Magic are featured in the upcoming film “Tears of a Clown” featuring BET Comedian D.C. Curry which was nominated for “Best Feature Film of the Year” at the Pan African Film Festival.
The album boasts a supporting cast that reads like a “Who’s Who” from the annals of R&B and Pop lore: Keyboardist and hip-hop MC Kev Choice (Voted by East Bay Express as “The Most Multi-Talented Musician”) and who served as the musical tour director for Lauryn Hill in both 2006 and 2007. On keys Kev Choice has supported such artists as Michael Franti & Spearhead, Goapele, Too Short, Martin Luther, Jennifer Johns, DJ Quik and Zion I. Music can be heard from Keyboardist Sundra Manning who is most well known for her collaborative work alongside Grammy Nominated vocalist Ledisi on the debut album Soulsinger. Other brilliant cameos include vocalists Rosie Gaines and Bonnie Boyer (Prince), Keyboardists Michael Stanton, Rodney Franklin & Herman Jackson (musical director for Jessica Simpson, Stevie Wonder, the Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye) Eric Daniels (musical director for Mariah Carey & Janet Jackson), Sax men Scott Mayo (Earth, Wind and Fire), Vince Lars & Charlie Spikes (Tony Toni Tone), Guitarists Carl Lockett and Tommy Oregon (Janet Jackson), drummer Brian Collier and the Oak Town Horns who comprise some of the Bay Area’s finest horn players.
The astonishing vocal deftness of Donnie Williams permeates on Just Like Magic. In a time when many R&B stars have become further and further removed from the folks that they speak to with their custom made looks and unattainable lifestyles, Donnie remains a lot like us: a tender, tough, self-possessed young man who puts his community before commercial concerns. Composing an intricately crafted and cohesive body of work that illuminates his unequaled musicianship, Donnie only scratches the surface of what he is capable of.
The Daily Republic
“It is really a shame that Donnie Williams didn’t go further on “American Idol” because he has an incredibly versatile and powerful voice. His phrasing and tone are flawless. I mean, I‘m talking Stevie Wonder-like. Comparing this season’s runner-up Blake Lewis to Williams is like comparing a can of Spam to a porterhouse steak with all the trimmings.”
The San Fran Voice
“If Donnie’s name sounds familiar, it could be because he was an American Idol finalist. Or because he’s worked with some important musicians. Just Like Magic is notable because it’s got a number of different vocalists and instrumentalists featured. “Send My Baby Back”, Bonnie Boyer and La Toya London create the feeling that there’s a dialogue between a man & woman, making it more of a story than a love letter.”
“History making Urban/R&B Pop crossover songs featuring Two Great American Idol artists Donnie Williams and Latoya London, with a very impressive lineup of special guest musicians.”