A Little Black Coffee – Karen Hogle Brown

I had always sung growing up, but it was more of a hobby of mine rather and it didn’t hold the passion that playing instruments held for me. However, curiosity finally got the better of me in high school, and I auditioned for choir where I met Mr. Williams. He was an incredibly tall, goofy but lovable director who oozed musicality out of his pores. If he heard something, he could play it right away, and composed his own works as well. He was one of the best musicians I had met up to this point, and I marveled at his talent. He challenged our choral department not only in our octavos, but started the tradition of solo numbers during the choral concerts, which made for long cabarets that sold out for
4 straight performances.

One such performance we were preparing for, and he asked me to sing a solo. I brought in some sweet little music theatre piece that was the style I always did. We rehearsed through it, and then he said, “I really think there is more to your voice than you think there is.” He then handed me a different piece of music and told me I’d be doing this piece instead for the concert (which was less than 48 hours away – yikes). It was the jazz standard “Black Coffee”. ???? Surely he was mistaken by what kind of singer I was, but the singer in me wanted to try. I listened to a recording by Sarah Vaughn over and over trying to understand more of the style. I borrowed a slinky dress from a friend, and didn’t even tell my parents or friends I was doing this song, but the next day I went out and did it, and shocked the entire music department and audience. It felt so fun to shatter the ‘girl next door’ image and dare myself that I was capable of
something more and something different. I shocked myself singing that song, and didn’t even know that I could sing like that, but Mr. Williams did.

I just found out a few months ago that Mr. Williams died recently due to complications with health issues. Looking back on the career I have now, I realized I would not be here without Mr. Williams. He was one of the first ones to recognize the musician and artist living within me. He continued to challenge me through school sending me to All State competitions. During college, he would hire me to sing at his church, and urged me to go to Los Angeles to pursue more of a singing career. He had played in clubs here before, and said he said he knew I was capable of doing all kinds of singing. He was the first one to force me outside the limited vision I had of myself and my singing, and learning that lesson has stayed with me during my professional artistic journey as well. The world will miss you Mr. Williams, as do I – my teacher, my mentor, and my friend.

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