Mary Kay Williams is one motivated woman! She’s living her life so loud, that for many days after our interview, I was inspired to get some stuff done myself! Born and raised in the part of upstate New York “where they pronounce their ‘r’s’ ” she grew up in a house of technical engineers and science- minded family members in Rochester. She credits her mom, Maureen, and her side of the family for passing down the creative gene.
One of the longest interviews I’ve ever conducted, we discovered we have a few things in common. She warned me up front that she is fancifully erratic; preferring to jump around and joyfully succumb to her A.D.D. We both love to talk about ourselves, and boy did we do just that!
From our respective zoom call rooms, the first thing I noticed was her headwear; A darling black chapeau with gold buttons. Turns out, she made it using material that was originally meant for another item she decided to scrap and reconstruct. Not one to waste fabric, this college educated fashion illustrator repurposed herself a modern take on the kicky bucket hat! I knew I was in for an amusing sit-down!
A large chunk of her Mary Kay Arts business was formed to promote her artistry as a retail caricaturist. She manages a successful career within the festival, amusement park and cruise ship circuit. With a bubbly exuberant vivacious personality, it’s no wonder her lines are notoriously the longest.
But, all this happened in what she refers to as “the before times.” Like most of us, she’s shifted and pivoted and realigned strategies to find her virtual sweet spot, taking on custom orders and the like, making her way around the financial constraints the pandemic has caused.
Fortunately, her brain provides a ceaseless supply of ideas and keeps her bucket list continuously full. There’s a steady pen-stroke of items crossed out and accomplished on that list besides! Her zealous re-imagining, re-inventing and repurposing all things art, manifests through awareness and alignments with like-minded collaborators and colleagues. She has spearheaded consortiums with other artists and formed lasting partnerships.
“Here’s my list, in order of how much I love doing them: Singing! Lindy Hop Dancing! Art of all kinds! Writing! Acting! I’m the sort of person who is able to see patterns; I bubble around things. I’ve created a lifestyle and a path that is multifaceted to honor all my interests and talents. As it turns out, I attract and look for people who have attention deficit! I’ve met transplant surgeons who are piano virtuosos for instance. Multi-talented people are everywhere!”
Now that she’s matured into her late fifties, she feels this pull to harness and focus her “goddess powers” toward inspiring and guiding others. Creative people, people who don’t think they’re creative, are the people she aspires to attract and bring together for a creative workshop weekend event. She’s proven time and time again during her self-made cosmopolitan existence, that she can do whatever she sets her mind to!
As we swing around to the subject of music, I learn that she played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in 5th grade. She slayed the part and she slayed THE song! I discovered that the stops and starts with music were for her, deliberate and necessary. Still, she can’t believe there ever was a time in her adult life that she didn’t sing.
In her 30’s she began to pursue music in earnest. Her Uncle Billy is a Blues singer and after they performed together at a family reunion, he encouraged her to start going to Blues and Jazz jams around Rochester. The domino effect that committing to these weekly sit-ins realized was a female music group she and her late sister, Terry, formed called “Twisted Covers.” She also met a guitarist and singer whom she would perform with as a duo for two- plus years. She found great pleasure and was darn good at arranging harmonies and what a thrill it was to perform them at coffee houses and small café’s.
The Barley’s Jazz Jam is where Mary Kay and I first met in early 2020. Her reputation for having all the right vocal chops preceded her, and boy did she not disappoint! With a full house on a chilly night, the warmth from her lighthearted and goofy demeanor brought us together in laughter and sway. As she seduced us with her pitch perfect ballad, the lushness of her voice made me and everyone present respond in kind with lauding applause and whistles. I took out my phone and set a reminder to contact her for an interview.
“For at least a decade now, my absolute number one love has been music.” So now, as the pandemic gives her new time (because she doesn’t lack energy, believe me!) she is making music the centerpiece. This feature, I dare say, is just what the Minstrel Doctor ordered!
Whether it’s singing or speaking or acting in front of an audience, Mary Kay is fearless and brilliant. “The feeling of singing, in and of itself, makes me yearn to do more of it.”
Though there’s not much out there in TV or computer land to evidence her creamy, ample and expressive song renderings, take it from me; she’ll be producing, arranging and recording at least an LP, just in time to release in the after times!
“I have a mission in life to blaze a trail and do everything! I can’t imagine that I was given this much talent if my purpose is not to use all that I was given.”
Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, vocal coach, writer and booking manager