From Alabama’s schoolhouse on the prairie to Tyler Perry’s ‘House of Payne’

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On “Bloody Sunday,” a pregnant Julia Williams and her husband, Palmer Williams Sr., joined an estimated 600 nonviolent protesters who were chased and beaten by Alabama state troopers bent on upholding the South’s age-old, discriminatory tradition regarding Black suffrage. At the time, neither parent could have ever imagined what God had in store for their unborn son.

More than four decades later, Williams has made quite a trek from his humble Alabama beginnings to the stage, television and beyond

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PALMER WILLIAMS JR.

As “Floyd,” supervisor and owner of the apartment complex where the Tyler Perry play “Laugh to Keep from Crying” is set, Williams described his role as “basically adding to the comic relief of the show, even though the comedy is very well distributed.”

The signature Perry production provides a morally uplifting, timely message with lots of amazing vocal performances.

“We have a standard to uphold and, as long as we remember that what we’re doing is for Christ, we will never fail,” he added.

“So we have to give Him our best. And that’s where a lot of people don’t get it. If you really go about it as if it’s your last day to perform on this earth—you’ll give it your all. You have to take care of yourself and the gift or talent that God has blessed you with.”

The actor/singer returns from a major role in Perry’s past production, “The Marriage Counselor.” Television viewers will recognize Williams as “Floyd,” the barber shop owner on another Perry creation—the TBS sitcom, “House of Payne.”

Prior to discovery by Hollywood’s No. 1 urban playwright, Williams was involved with numerous stage plays, in various capacities, from playwright/director to actor, including: “A Good Man is Hard to Find;” “Where Have All the Good Men Gone?,” “Can a Woman Make a Man Lose His Mind?,” “What a Man Wants, What a Woman Needs” and “Til Death Do Us Part.”

As for singing—his first love, Williams has won competitions at New York’s historic Apollo Theater and has toured as backup vocal arranger and coordinator for R&B performers LSG, Keith Sweat and Monica. He has appeared as background vocalist on several television shows, including “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” the “American Music Awards,” “Motown Live” and the “Soul Train Awards.”

The talented performer is also a songwriter/producer in his own right and plans to release his own project soon.

“I am three songs away from finishing my album. It’s going to prayerfully come out in December—just before Christmas. The title is ‘Neo-saved’—like saved, sanctified, and filled with the precious Holy Ghost.”

“‘Neo-saved’ meaning new-saved. Not meaning that I’m newly saved, but that I am basically trying to help [with] that transition from the club to the church—as far as the music style is concerned,” he said.

Williams describes the release as an eclectic mix of music—“contemporary gospel, neo-soul and also a little bit of jazz, flavored with R&B.”

“This album explains a lot of things that have gone on in my life, as well as a lot of things that have gone on in other people’s lives—which people will see when they listen to the words,” he added. The project has taken almost five years to complete.

His faith continues to be nurtured under the ministry of Bishop Eddie Long and the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta where he and his wife, Annetta, live with their four children (ages 4, 7, 9 and 25) and Williams’ 80-year-old mother-in-law.

Besides his religious beliefs, Williams says that his family responsibilities help to keep the proper perspective on his career successes.

“Having small children and one adult child has a lot to do with it. They don’t know anything other than daddy providing for them— even though they see me on TV.

“But I’m still kind of numb from it. I guess because I don’t really consider myself a celebrity—even though other people tell me that I am,” he added.

In fact, he was born in what was then a poor, rural area known as Camden, Ala., and raised in Mobile, Ala.

“We lived so far out in the country that if it weren’t for the school—right there that my father was the principal of and my mother the librarian—I really didn’t have any kids around ’til school was in.”

Today, the Prairie Mission United Presbyterian Church School where Williams’ father was principal, is on the Alabama registry of the state’s historical sites, along with the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

His parents are both deceased, as well as one of his two sisters. His father—who he describes as “his best friend” passed away 13 years ago; while his mother—who he credits with cultivating his interest in the arts—died when he was quite young.

“It started with my mother who, God rest her soul, passed away in 1973. I was a mere pup—eight years old—[yet] my mother had already exposed me to performing live before audiences,” he said.

Williams also recalls overcoming childhood stage fright simply “because my mother was there with me. She was a talented vocalist and an actress, as well.”

Julia Williams would enlist her young son’s background vocal skills (and playing of his toy drums) individually and collectively—with an unnamed cousin and family friend —singing in a style similar to the well-known “Sweet Inspirations.”

Something Williams will never forget is the last time his mother asked him to sing with her and he declined.

“I was so afraid to stand next to the casket and that was the last time I ever heard my mother sing.”

Since then, he dedicates every performance to her.

By his own accounts, the accomplished Williams—who also earned his bachelor of science degree in Health/Hospital Administration at Knoxville College in Tennessee—never imagined that he would ever reach such heights in the entertainment world.

“I just didn’t think it was obtainable. Not being racist or prejudice, I thought only White people were able to be on TV. Blacks [in movies] were depicting slaves and servants or something which I didn’t think was negative at the time because I didn’t know any better.”

“But that was a necessary evil in order for someone like me to be on television right now. I thank God for them. We talk about the Civil Rights Movement that was going on in Alabama [for voting rights and human rights] and my mother and father were very much involved…but there was another Civil Rights Movement going on in TV and movies, as well.”

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