The Electrifying Crown Seekers Gospel Singers is a down-home, country-tinged gospel group from Marrero, LA.
The group was founded in 1965 by James Williams, Sr., The Electrifying Crown Seekers anchored a vibrant, under-the-radar gospel music community in the heart of the birthplace of jazz – “Naw’lins” (New Orleans).
Originally from Liberty, Mississippi and trained in Jimmy Reed-style blues guitar, James Williams is now the only original member of the 49-year-old Crown Seekers, currently backed by members of his large musical family and their community. Two of Williams’ sons, 19 years apart, have played drums for the Crown Seekers. “My father used to run me out of the house when I was trying to play the guitar,” remembers Williams. “When I got good? He used to brag on me so much and bring his friends around to hear me play. So when both of my sons started banging on pots, I got ‘em drums, I never ran my kids out. I always defended them and their noise. And they got good!” 46-year-old Brent Williams, a resident of Austin TX, left the band years ago for the military & a corporate career, handing over duties to now 26-year-old Keith Williams. When Keith can’t make the service, their 16-year-old nephew Lee Murphy, Jr. mans the Crown Seekers’ drum kit.
Dedicated to preserving the raw quartet style of singing made famous by The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Blind Boys of Alabama, the Crown Seekers and the New Orleans quartet community fostered a nascent local circuit that, by 2004, supported close to 50 regular acts.
For all his flashy fretwork, James Williams claims that “the trick, in the end, is to figure out how to be humble and still create a sound that will get to the people.” Although behind a Gibson rather than a pulpit, Williams refuses to use his musical gift for financial gain. He recently retired after several decades at BellSouth, and the rest of the Seekers all have day jobs. They toured France in 1990 but can far more often be heard at St. Lucy’s church fair, playing for charity.
“We don’t play in clubs, but if they wanted gospel we would do it there! We will play anywhere they need the gospel,” promises Williams. “We can sing high, we can sing low, we can sing in between. We can sing country western—we do it all, so that wherever we go, from the nursing homes to the Jazz Fest, we’ll be able to do whatever is needed.”
Gospel quartets are rare, James Williams explains. “Most gospel groups have so many members because not everyone who plays an instrument can sing,” he says. “We all play and harmonize, so we don’t need more than the four.” When asked why the Crown Seekers can be seen performing with up to nine people in its quartet, Williams laughs. “Somebody always wants to join our group. They always are trying to get in. And I have been trying to get more young people in the group in case anything happens to me.”
As detailed in the upcoming documentary film By and By: NOLA Gospel at the Crossroads by Joe Compton and Matthew Bowden, New Orleans gospel quartets are recently even rarer, thanks to Hurricane Katrina. “There were 45 groups before, and now there are only 12 to 15,” says Compton, an ex-civil servant and NPR music reviewer.