Having never seen Lee Williams perform in person, I watched a video of he and the Spiritual QC’s to get a visual of what I’d heard for years. Astonishingly, Williams stood there stoically and belted out his original songs in that baritone that could riff an octave – that old call-and-response type of song – lapsing into what writers of performances call “trance blues” and indicative of the North Mississippi unique style.
Less than two years ago, in July, Mr. Williams retired from singing and traveling, his health in bad shape. But a fading memory didn’t stop him from attending his birthday and appreciation day at Fairpark in July 2018, when folks came together to honor him, and rightly so.
The King of the Quartet started singing when he was eight years old. His uncle, Mitchell Thornton, who sang with the Gospel Stars, noticed the talent. After the Stars broke up, Mr. Thornton created the Spiritual QC’s (Qualified Christian Singers), a name Mr. Williams took when he began singing professionally in the late 1960s.
Mr. Williams would drive a truck all week, sometimes logging as much as 300 miles in a day, and then take the weekends to perform with the quartet on weekends, depending on love offerings from church congregations to get them through. At one time he told a reporter for the San Francisco Gate he put more from his pocket to keep the group on the road during their weekend trips than they received from the offering plates.
Yet, perseverance and love of God and gospel paid off when a Memphis disc jockey began to play the group’s cassettes on the air. That was about 1995. Just five years later, “Good Time,” an album, hit the Billboard Gospel Chart’s Top 10. More music followed along with the accolades: Traditional Quartet of the Year from the Gospel Music Excellence Awards, a nomination of Best Gospel Album from the Soul Train Awards, the James Cleveland Lifetime Achievement Award and several Stellar Awards, the equivalent to the Grammys for African American gospel music.
On his last tour through Northern California in 2012, writer Lee Hildebrand attended the concert. He marveled at William’s presentation, his ability to control his pitch and range, the audience’s dancing in the Spirit and shouting, and Hildebrand pronounced Williams and the Gospel QC’s as, the “hottest group on the African-American gospel circuit.” Bible Believer’s Christian College in Hawthorne, Calif. Awarded Williams an honorary doctorate.
In 2017, the Mississippi State Legislature recognized Lee Williams and the Spiritual QC’s for their message and their talents. In part, the resolution said: “… we do hereby honor the Gospel music excellence of Lee Williams & The Spiritual QC’s of Tupelo, Mississippi, and congratulate Dr. Lee Williams upon his receipt of an honorary Doctorate of Sacred Music, and extend our best wishes for their future successes.”