Jazz Times magazine states that “Patrice Williamson isn’t a singer, she’s a one-woman jazz sampler. – She is a woman of many voices, each distinctly intriguing all distinctly her own.”
Patrice Williamson’s childhood home in Memphis, Tennessee was filled with song. Her late father, Webster Williamson, an avid amateur singer, choir director, and pillar of the St. Stephen’s Baptist Church music ministry, introduced his children to both sacred music and the secular styles of greats like Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Lena Horne. With the encouragement of her mother, Lillie Rivers Williamson, Patrice followed in the footsteps of her elder sister, Denise, taking up the violin and making her debut at age four, playing a duet with her sister in front of the St. Stephen's congregation.
From then on, she was hooked on music and performing. To her violin studies, she added piano (at age seven) and flute (at 11). She imagined herself growing into a world-famous concert artist: "I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would say in my interview on ‘The Tonight Show.’"
Patrice carried the dream into her teens, but chose a "practical" major, communications, when she enrolled at the University of Tennessee. In her second year, however, she realized her heart was elsewhere and decided to major in music. "I remember having to make that phone call home," she says. "I wasn't sure what my parents reaction would be." As it happened, they were supportive. "Well, it's about time," said Lillie. "I didn't know what you were doing in broadcasting when you've been in music all your life."
Her focus remained on classical performance; she served as principal flutist for the opera and symphony orchestras. It wasn’t until the conductor of the UT Studio Jazz Orchestra overheard her scatting during a rehearsal break, and immediately offered her a vocal solo, that she considered singing as a possible career path. Encouraged by UT faculty jazz pianist Donald Brown, she headed to New England Conservatory to focus full-time on her voice, under the guidance of award-winning RCA recording artist Dominique Eade.
In Boston, Patrice hit the ground running. Before her Master’s degree studies were complete, she was weighing rival offers for a four-month performance engagement at Somerset’s Bar in Singapore (the country’s premier jazz venue) and further studies at NEC in the school’s prestigious Artist Diploma program. In the end, she managed to do both.
A favorite of the Boston music scene, Patrice’s sensitive ballad work and fluent scat style have garnered invitations to perform at the famed Blue Note Jazz club in New York City, and with many well-known instrumentalists such as Danilo Perez, Joe Lovano and Terri Lyne Carrington. As a Professor of Voice at Berklee College of Music, her work has taken her to Perugia, Italy, Seoul, South Korea, Peru and India, where she performed with saxophonist Donald Harrison in the New Delhi Jazz Festival.
Her independent recordings, My Shining Hour and Free to Dream have received high praise from jazz critics around the country. In 2014 Patrice started The Ella Project, a multi-faceted tribute leading up to Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday, including a concert series, biographical performance, and recordings, including Comes Love, an album celebrating the collaboration between Fitzgerald and legendary guitarist Joe Pass.
Her former teachers, now senior colleagues, are quick with their own praise. Says Dominique Eade, "Patrice is a hard-swinging interpreter and a refreshingly accomplished jazz vocal improviser." Ran Blake, head of NEC’s Contemporary Improvisation department, sums it up: "It’s a breathtaking voice."