Born in a rough part of New York City, singer Kat Williams was raised as the last of 31 foster kids. Determined to heed her mother’s advice and get an education, Williams graduated from Niagra University with a degree in criminal justice and started working for the New York State Department of Corrections. How did she go from prison guard to jazz maven?
How did you first get into music?
I did it on the down-low. My brother had the radio, so when my brothers used to leave I would go in their bedroom and turn on all the different radio stations and listen to the R&B and soul station, and then I’d listen to the hard rock station. I used to take in all these different styles of music. I really thought I was getting away with something, until one day I left it on the hard rock station and they kind of busted me out hanging out in their bedroom listening to music.
When did you start singing?
I started out as a karaoke singer. While I was working in law enforcement I wanted to have a hobby that didn’t require alcohol or beating somebody up. It’s kind of tough when you’re working as a jailer, working with criminals and stuff. You need some type of release and mine was karaoke. I was working for the Sheriff’s Department as a jailer, and I used to go on Thursday nights to McGuffy’s. That’s where people heard me and thought I was a professional singer already with a band…but of course I wasn’t.
How did you get your first real gig?
I got approached by Terri Abernathy down at Tressa’s and they asked me if I would be their house singer. They’d heard of me. And I was amazed. I didn’t even know there was a buzz about me. I was the house singer for the first year at Tressa’s.
But at first, you were a little shy on stage…
I used to sing with my back to the audience because I was scared. Finally, the piano player I was playing with said ‘You know, if you’re going to be doing this for a living, you’ve gotta turn around and address your crowd.’ Once I turned around, forget it.
Why do you think you’ve had so much success?
It’s all about my mom. When I was little, she was dying of cancer. I took care of her from the time that I was nine to 17. I put on shows for her. And I used to do imitations and sing songs for her and all kinds of stuff, and she always told me ‘I want you to always be creative.’ She said that the only limits that you have are the limits that you put on yourself, and that’s my theory. If somebody says that I can’t do something I say ‘You don’t know me.’ I also use those talents to try and inspire others to find their bliss. I found my bliss. Whenever I get on stage, it’s this pure. Everything that’s happened in my life or whatever I forget at that moment, everything else that’s happening in my life. All that matters is the song.