By John Parks
Michelle Williams has won a Grammy with Destiny’s Child, recorded top-selling inspirational/gospel albums as a solo artist and become a well-respected theater actress, but she remembers that it all started in her hometown of Rockford.
Michelle has a lot to be happy about these days. She called us fresh off an appearance in front of the largest viewing audience ever during the Super Bowl halftime show, where she participated in a Destiny’s Child reunion segment.
Michelle has a new solo album she is prepping for a summer 2013 release, and Destiny’s Child has just released their second compilation album, Love Songs, which features the brand-new track “Nuclear.” This is all in addition to her booming career as an actress, which includes a starring run in the musical Fela, which includes some area shows at Arie Crown Theater in Chicago (Feb. 19-23).
I talked to Michelle about everything going on, including her big Super Bowl weekend. Read on …
The Rock River Times (TRRT): Hi, Michelle. I see you are calling from California, but you are quite familiar with the 815 area code, aren’t you?
Michelle: I love dialing the 815 area code! It’s home. It’s been about a month or so since I have been back home.
TRRT: You’ve had a lot of career highlights, but I have to ask you the obvious first question: How was it to perform in front of literally the world during the Super Bowl halftime show?
Michelle: It was soooooo much fun. It was just absolutely incredible. Every performance is a rush, but that might have been just a tiny bit more of a rush because of the energy and excitement of everyone there. There was so much going on that weekend. I’m rooting for the Ravens, and I’m excited for them. It felt like everyone there was just happy and excited.
TRRT: The power outage happened right after you guys had walked off stage and into the dressing room. Was that kind of a surreal moment?
Michelle: It did, it happened right after our performance. It was crazy. We were all screaming and hopping up and down like “Yessss!! The power went out!!!” (laughs). We still had lights and everything where we were; it didn’t get pitch black or anything, but it was just a wild moment.
TRRT: The latest Destiny’s Child album, Love Songs, recently came out and features a new track. When was that recorded?
Michelle: Kelly, Beyonce and I recorded it right before the holidays, and it’s called “Nuclear,” produced by Pharrell, and it’s the one new track on the compilation.
TRRT: You were a part of so many of those chart-topping tracks, was it ever readily apparent to you while you were recording them that they would become such massive hits?
Michelle: I don’t think so. I don’t think you ever really know. You know that you like what you’re hearing, but I think a lot of times the public almost determines what level those tracks end up at.
TRRT: You also have a new solo album which you’re working on. How is that coming, and what can we expect?
Michelle: It’s about 80 percent done. It will be an inspirational album, and it will be on Light Records. I just can’t wait to get this out — it should be out this summer. There will definitely be some more chances taken on this album, and I am working with some huge R&B/pop producers so that it will have a fresh sound. Sometimes when you say “gospel” or “inspirational,” people think of sad, dreary organ music, and I wanted to make sure this had a current, upbeat exciting sound.
TRRT: You have always said that your music is always a reflection on what you learned growing up at Saint Paul Church here in Rockford. Does that still enter your mind while you are working in the studio these days?
Michelle: Absolutely, absolutely. The teaching that I received from my church is my foundation in all that I do. That’s why you have to be careful of what you teach your children because they still remember those early years and what they learned at a young age. I thank God that my foundation was in church. I had some of the best music teaching there, and I still apply that to what I do today.
TRRT: Are you excited to be coming back to northern Illinois this month?
Michelle: Yes, I am, John. I am going to be in Chicago at the Arie Crown Theater from Feb. 19 to the 23rd for the musical Fela, which is going to be so much fun. I really hope that so many people from my hometown in Rockford can get a chance to come up and see a show.
TRRT: I know that the show tells the story of Fela Kuti and Afrobeat music and has won a number of Tony Awards on Broadway. Is it true that the show is very visual and stimulating?
Michelle: It is one of the most energetic shows you will see for sure. The music is grooving and it is pretty intense, reenacting Fela’s last concert at the Shrine. This show, the way it’s set up, the set involves a lot of crowd participation. You’re not coming to see a play where you just sit down and watch, you actually get up and move with us and the music.
TRRT: You went to West Middle School and Auburn High. Was theater always important to you or something you enjoyed?
Michelle: Absolutely. When I was growing up in school, I was a proud member of CAPA, the Creative and Performing Arts program in the Public Schools District 205, baby! When I was growing up, it was always my dream to do what I do.
TRRT: You’re performing a total of eight shows onstage, just in this run here, and some of them are two in a day. Is that schedule kind of tough?
Michelle: It can be. We do two-a-days on Saturday and Sunday, but once you hit the stage and get that rush again, you’re like, “Oh, I can do this.” That immediate reaction from the audience during a show is almost like an instant reward for all the work you’ve been putting in. If it’s onstage in a concert and you see that reaction, it’s like “Oh, they love this song,” and if it’s during a scene in theater, it’s like, “Oh, they love this scene.” It’s pretty cool to perform live.
TRRT: Thanks for talking with us, Michelle. Last question … you had a chance to hang out with Kelly (Rowland) and Beyonce (Carter) this past weekend. Beyond the theater and your solo work, is it possible there may still be future Destiny’s Child appearances or even a tour?
Michelle: It is absolutely, absolutely possible, maybe so. Thank you for talking with me, John, I hope to see some of my friends from the 815 soon.
From the Feb. 6-12, 2013, issue