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Arts and Entertainment

Michelle Williams to star in 'Fela!'
Williams will be performing at Charlotte's Belk Theater Feb. 25 - 26
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013
by Michaela L. Duckett

Michelle Williams’ rise to fame came shortly after joining Destiny’s Child in 2000, but the songstress’ love of the performing arts began in

Michelle Williams. coming off a reunion with Destiny's Child at The Super Bowl, stars in "Fela!" at Belk Theater.

childhood. She began studying music and theater in seventh grade.

Over the years, Williams said she has been influenced by every music genre from rock to gospel and R&B. She counts Brandy, Johnnie Ray, Sting, Drake, Marvin Winans and Jessica Reedy among the long list of artists who inspire her sound.

About five years ago, she took interest in the music of Fela Kuti, the creator of Afrobeat. Kuti’s music blends jazz and funk with African rhythm and harmonies. He mixed eclectic rhythms with simple but powerful lyrics that openly assailed Nigeria’s corrupt and oppressive dictatorships.

Kuti’s life is depicted in the Broadway musical “Fela!,” which was produced by Shawn “Jay Z” Carter with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith.

 “I had seen the show on Broadway and in London,” Williams said. ”I was like, ‘How come I’m not the one up there?”

A few months ago Williams received a call inviting her to join the world tour, which stops in Charlotte Feb. 25–26 at the Belk Theater. Williams plays the role of Sandra Isadore, Kuti’s lover and teacher who introduces him to the civil rights struggle in America through the work of Stokely Carmichael, Nina Simone, Malcolm X and Angela Davis.

“She let him know that if he was going to be on this black power thing then he needed to know the pioneers of black power,” Williams said.

Williams said what attracted her most to the play was “the way the story telling was done through the music.”

Williams said she shares some similarities with her character.

“Sandra has a bit of aggressiveness,” she said. “She likes to tell people what to do. I fit that category very well.”

A matter of destiny

Williams, who made her Broadway debut in “Aida” in 2002, called her reunion performance with Destiny’s child members Beyoncé Knowles Carter and Kelly Rowland at the Super Bowl a “beautiful moment,” but fans should not expect new music from the group anytime soon.

“I wish I could say there was new music on the way,” she said. “But honestly, there are no plans for that.”

Williams is currently working on her fourth album, which she said is slated to release this summer.

In addition, she is also working on getting the Michelle P. Williams Foundation off the ground.

“It’s going to be dealing with people and letting them know that if they change their mind, they can change their life,” she said. “It’s about getting people to think positively and helping people that may be dealing with depression. It’s just about the power of positive thinking and really counseling people and getting them to understand that what you can and cannot do is in your mind.”

Williams said the concept for the foundation was inspired by her personal bouts with depression, which she said she overcame through positive thinking, exercise and the realization that happiness is a choice.

“I surrounded myself with amazing positive people who are where I still strive to go,” she said. ”I really cut a lot of people off. A lot of people – those who drain you spiritually, mentally, physically – I cut them off.”

When asked what she was going through that caused her onset of depression, she responded, “I’m a happy person, and I don’t want to delve too much personally.”

Her advice to those who aspire to follow her footsteps and become entertainers is to stay focused.

“You’ve got to do the work and stay encouraged and consistent,” she said.

On the Net:

Tickets to “Fela!” at blumenthalarts.org.


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