Milwaukee musician K.C. Williams was born and raised in the city, but his musical roots were planted in the country. As a child he’d spend summers at his uncle’s farm in Greenwood, Mississippi.
“Basically there were only two types of music you listened to in his house, that’s gospel and country,” Williams said.
From George Strait to Charley Pride, Williams says he’s always been drawn to country music. As an African-American man growing up in Milwaukee, that meant line dancing to the beat of his own drum.
“It just became a part of me and with that came a lot of ridicule,” Williams said, “I got teased in elementary, middle and high school.”
Williams wouldn’t let the teasing tear him away from the music he loved. He began to play guitar, write songs and perform country and gospel music. He says being an African-American country artist set him apart, but not always in a good way.
“I had black people telling me I shouldn’t be singing country and I had white people telling me I shouldn’t be singing country,” Williams recalls, “Country is where I want to be.”
Williams soldiered on, playing gigs and talent shows. Through a friend’s mother, he met famed steel guitar player Robby Turner.
“I met Robby Turner, and he exposed me to some of the greatest backstage of the Grand Old Opry,” Williams said, “Those guys they pretty much said hey, you keep at this. You got something. It’s different.”
Williams continued to climb the country music ladder. His big break came in 1998. He was invited to play at a Milwaukee festival with one of country music’s biggest stars.
“Tim McGraw was the headliner,” Williams said, “He saw me and sent his band leader over and he says ‘Hey, Tim likes you. He wants to work with you.’”
Williams’ career took off. He recorded an album with McGraw’s touring band, the Dance Hall Doctors. It led to a European tour of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Poland. His childhood dream had come true.
“I always used to say one of these days, you guys are going to be seeing me on the stage,” Williams said, “Music has been my life.”
Williams could have continued his quest for fame and fortune, but he eventually decided to go down a different path, teaching.
“Giving back, pretty much, is where it’s at for me,” Williams said.
Williams decided to follow his heart again. Instead of spending nights playing gigs on the road, he now spends his days giving back in the classroom. He works five days a week as a traveling music teacher in the Milwaukee Public School System.
“I barter with the kids. I say okay teach me what you know and I’ll teach you what I know,” Williams said.
In a career that’s allowed Williams to travel the globe and rub elbows with music legends, he says being able to mold future musicians may be the biggest highlight of all.
“Joy is an understatement,” Williams said, “To see one child grasp and comprehend what music is really all about, their eyes light up. That’s the joy I get.”
Williams still performs the occasional gig, and plans to record at least one more country music album. For now though, he’s happy teaching kids that if you do what you love, you don’t have to walk the line.
“Be yourself. So, if you like what you’re hearing, whatever you like, and it’s not what the norm likes, it’s okay,” Williams said, “It’s okay to like different things. It’s okay to be different.”