Dana Williams on Billie Holiday

Grace Rubin
October 21, 2020

Dana Williams is a time traveler. With sultry, melancholic vocals reminiscent of the great jazz divas, the neo soul artist offers a portal to the bygone. In an increasingly pop-focused, production-heavy music scene, her voice stands out as soulful and economical. As a lyricist though, she is nothing short of generous. The stories, sorrows, and joys she describes in song are her own—a glimpse into her psychic, private self. 

Dana was primed to appreciate the intimacy music affords. The daughter of a rhythm guitarist (the late David Williams) and the granddaughter of a jazz singer, Dana grew up among instruments and sheet music, raised on the records of past generations. In elementary school, her grandmother introduced her to jazz standards and Ella Fitzgerald and her father taught her how to write a melody. By thirteen, she was writing her own songs. 

Since the release of her sophomore album Let’s Fall in 2015, Dana has released more than a dozen singles, several of which are accompanied by acoustic versions. Besides showcasing her voice, these tracks highlight Dana’s guitar playing—a skill she inherited from her father and honed in college. Her latest single, “Stuff,” speaks to the myriad pressures that female artists of color face. “It’s about feeling worn out as a black female artist by the industry’s and society’s impossible standards and expectations,” she explained over email. To combat those pressures, Dana looks backwards, this time to her own past in the form of a childhood home video. “It reminds me of the passion I felt that drove me to become an artist and it also serves as a reminder of where I came from.”

For her Algorhythm, Dana recalls the walk through Central Park that led to a newfound appreciation for Billie Holiday:

One winter when I was living in New York, it started to snow and one of my friends called and asked me if I wanted to go for a walk through Central Park. We shared the love of jazz, so during our walk he asked me if I read Billie Holiday's autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. I hadn't and we turned around and walked back to his place so that I could borrow the book. That winter I read Lady Sings the Blues and it was a pivotal moment for me musically. I was instantly captivated by Billie's story, her passion, and warmth and also her purity. I felt completely mesmerized by her and felt like I could understand the depth of her sadness in the timbre of her voice. That's when I really discovered Billie Holiday. 

“Stuff” was co-produced by Jordan Ware and L.3.G.I.O.N and was released on August 19—give it a spin, and listen to our full Algorhythms playlist here.

Looking for your next pivotal music moment? Grey Matter is a community platform with new ways to discover music, express yourself, and support creators. Learn more and join the community here.

Words

Recommended Reading