Meet Joy Williams
You can tag Joy Williams with plenty of labels: vocal prodigy, avid surfer (the Pacific Ocean as well as the Web), super-achiever (4.0 scholar, varsity athlete, student body president), but the name she most loves to wear is that of believer. "It’s not what you do, it’s who you are," says Joy. "God gives each of us certain gifts to use for His glory, and I’m just thankful that I get to be a vessel for his love at this season in my life. At the end of the day, though, what matters most is that I’m a child of God."
It’s a remarkably wise statement coming from this engaging young Californian, whose senior year in high school also included time off for recording her debut Reunion release, contributing to Left Behind: The Movie Soundtrack, and performing with Audio Adrenaline, Bryan Duncan, Bob Carlisle, NewSong, Rebecca St. James and others on the Left Behind and Winter Jam tours.
Where does this wisdom come from? For starters, she’s spent a lot of time in the company of serious believers: Dad Roger is the executive director of Mt. Hermon Christian Conference Center in the redwood-forested Santa Cruz Mountains on California’s scenic Central Coast. Growing up in the Williams home meant knowing American’s best-known evangelical leaders as casual, affectionate guests around the dinner table. She was born to the Christian camp life, literally—when a journalist recently asked her birthplace, she said, "Camp Barakel, in Michigan" and had to call Mom Rachel to find out the name of the nearby town (West Branch, for the record).
Still, growing up in a Christian camp environment doesn’t automatically make one a Christian, and Joy’s journey of faith has been her own. "My sister told me about Jesus during bath time, when she was eight, and I was four.” Joy counts that as a genuine experience that planted something permanent and kept her searching for more. "How much can you really conceptualize about faith at four? It became more of a real relationship when I got older, and I started asking myself why I believed this, other than the fact that my parents, my sister and everyone around me did."
In junior high, Joy put her considerable intellect to work and studied up on other religions: Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and others. "At 13 or 14 I realized that what I believed was the ultimate truth--and we’re supposed to ask God and test Him. I am more in love with Jesus now than ever before."
Coinciding with Joy’s childhood conversion was the start of her singing career, sort of. "The first time I sang on a stage was with my mom and dad and sister, at Christmastime—you know that Amy Grant song, ‘Up In The Attic’? I was about four, and I sang harmony." Since then, Joy absorbed a lot of Amy Grant’s musical influence (and learned the correct name of the song --"Heirlooms"), as well as the music of Aretha Franklin, Sandi Patty and jazz and classical composers.
Her earliest influence was Mom-who recorded a custom album in the early ‘90s. "She has an incredible range," says her proud daughter. "She can even sing bass! One night during choir rehearsal, Mom was intended to sing soprano solos, but it turned out that they couldn't find a bass soloist so she accepted that position."
As for when she discovered her own gift of singing, Joy says there was more to it than simple vocalizing. "It wasn’t just that I loved singing. It was that I loved people. I loved how God allowed me to be used in people’s lives, to be a vessel of His delight in them, in us. That part doesn’t have anything to do with me. I knew I could sing, but a lot of people can sing."
Maybe so, but few singers find themselves where Joy has already been: performing on two major tours and enjoying radio airplay on two singles ("2000 Decembers Ago" from A Christmas Reunion and "I Believe In You" from LEFT BEHIND: The Movie Soundtrack)—all before her own project was even finished. And what a start! Audiences on the Winter Jam tour broke into spontaneous applause during Joy’s spotlight moments, and, during her first major recording sessions, recording engineers nicknamed her "One-Take Williams" for her nearly flawless vocal work.
With her first complete studio debut, produced by Dan Muckala (Point of Grace, Mandy Moore, Aaron Neville) and Dennis Patton (Bob Carlisle, Michael W. Smith, Aaron Neville), Joy proves she’s a "singer’s singer" with mature, impassioned vocals covering a broad range of current pop stylings. From the energetic "No Less" to the intimate "Can They See Jesus In Me?” the theme of encouragement runs through Joy’s interpretations of penned songs by some of Christian music’s finest writers (Reggie Hamm, Ty Lacy, and Joel Lindsey.)
Despite the acclaim afforded her prodigious talent (at 14, she declined a recording contract in favor of a "normal" childhood) Joy Williams knows the difference between what she does and who she is, or more precisely, Whose she is. "I’m so thankful for these amazing opportunities…but in Jeremiah 29:11 God says ‘For I know the plans I have for you…’ and those are PLANS, plural. There’s not just one. It’s my job to stay close to the Lord every day and study the Word…so I can listen to His voice and follow His plans for me."
That explains why Joy lives up to the dictionary definition of her name: joy: a feeling or state of great delight or happiness, as caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying…she delights in knowing God and being known by Him. Amidst the pressures of a promising career and the everyday emotions of a vibrant young woman pursuing both passion and purity, Joy Williams is a believer—not in her own gifts, but in the Father who gave her the gift of love. "We all struggle with significance, but I’ve come to this conclusion: I could sing in front of 50,000 people or I could sing my kids to sleep, but at the end of the day, I’m a child of God. He loves us for who we are not what we do. If there’s anything I want someone to get from my music, it’s that."
You breathe and life begins You speak and my world makes sense But that’s how it is when it comes to You Your mercy has no end You’re more than just a friend It amazes You feel the way You do …I believe in You
— from “I Believe In You”