Songs from the Sidelines

Story by Jeannie Stone

Virgie Williams has always been the quiet one in the Dean Williams family. That’s not to say she is unusually shy; she’s just not a singer, and the Dean Williams Family is a local bluegrass and old time gospel group who perform a monthly singing.

Virgie joined the family when she was 15 years old. “They came to sing in my little town in Oklahoma, and I just fell in love with Gaylon and all of them on the spot.”

She has been married to Gaylon, who plays banjo and dobra, for 29 years. Together they have three children – Nicole Baker, an ATU nursing student; Travis, 20, a student at ATU, and Waylon, 17. Virgie is also grandmother to Amia, 5, and Zoey, 2.

“My children are all smart,” Virgie said, “not like me. I only have a ninth-grade education.” She credits God and the support of her husband for her creative wellspring. Virgie has written 12 out of the 14 songs featured on the newest Dean Williams Family CD entitled, “Uncertain World.”

The family has recorded six CDs and offers them for sale at their monthly singing, the Williams Family Jamboree.

“We started outside in the open air but moved in our building about four or five years ago,” mother-in-law and alto singer Joyce Williams said.

“I couldn’t write songs without these wonderful people helping me,” Virgie said. “Joyce will take what I’ve written and type it out real nice. And Charlotte is a huge help.”

Charlotte Salyers, Virgie’s sister-in-law, edits and arranges the songs. “It’s just got to flow,” she said.

Songwriting allows Virgie to address life- changing events such as “Heaven’s Angel” which she wrote about her sister who passed away with cancer four years ago. Charlotte’s haunting soprano performance conveys Virgie’s emotions.

“Her name was Christy; she was an angel to us all. Her beauty was in her heart and soul. Now she’s in heaven, and we miss her so.”

“I sat on the sidelines and watched these guys singing all these 29 years. I guess the music just got in my blood,” Virgie said.

Music is deep in her bones now. She wrote “Murder at Washita River” about her aunt who forgave her brother for killing her son.

“That song is all about forgiveness,” Virgie said. She takes her inspiration from everything. The title song “Uncertain World” describes

the world’s current situation “with disasters plaguing us all around.” It speaks of the high price of gas, natural disasters and the world spinning out of control.

Virgie doesn’t know what got into her when she marched to the train depot in Russellville.

“All of a sudden, I just wanted to write a song about the railroad.” She wrote the lyrics to the “Missouri Pacific Railroad” in three days.

“Betsy McGuire from Main Street Russellville and Kechia Bentley really encouraged me, and they seemed to love the song,” she said.

Virgie is in the process of registering with Broadcasting Music Incorporated, an online bulletin board which encourages members to post their work, allowing performers to shop and buy.

“There is a woman who sings with Vince Gil who is helping me,” she said.

Promoting her work has been a community effort with Cindy Loper, owner of local mini-mart Dover McB’s, selling the Dean Williams CD. Friends Kathy and Phil Waterman are cheering us on, Joyce said. Ruby, Doug and Denver Seward are supporters who spread the word about them at every music festival.

“They tell everyone about our music,” Joyce said, “and we are so grateful.”

It was the Sewards’ involvement that led to a relationship with acclaimed bluegrass musician and vocalist Rhonda Vincent (Female Vocalist of the Year for the years 2000-2006 by the International Bluegrass Music Association.) Vincent noticed that Ashlyn Salyers, the youngest member of the group, was singing “If You Don’t Love Your Neighbor, You Don’t Love God,” and that was Vincent’s song, so she sent an autographed picture to Ashlyn who debuted in 2003.

“I didn’t even know she was writing a song,” mother Charlotte said.

Ashyln was 6 years old and had just lost her father to cancer. The young girl, having been steeped in the faith and music of her family and after delivering her father’s eulogy, wrote the song “Waiting at the Pearly Gates.”

One of the family’s thrills came in the way of a letter from an Iraqi soldier.

“He happened to purchase “Uncertain World” and wrote us a letter to tell us how much he liked it,” Joyce said. “He wanted us to know our music was being played over there. I’m fixing to mail him a couple more.”

Virgie has hitched her dream to a star, several stars in fact.

“I’m writing a song for Vince Gil, and I’ve already sent a slew of songs to Marty Stuart and a song to Dailey and Vincent.”

Up-and-coming teenage country performers, Nik & Sam have received two of Virgie’s songs, and local southern gospel group, Spit ‘n Image, “want me to write a song for their next CD,” she said.

“I’ve written 20 songs this year and 20 for next year. My songs tell a story in poetry form,” Virgie said. “I’m not just ready for a song, I’m ready for a CD. I’m ready to work in a studio.”

The motivation behind Virgie’s quest for success lies close to her heart. She would love to reap enough financial gains to buy a ticket home.

“I cherish this family, but after 30 years, I’d really like to be able to visit my family in Oklahoma more.”

Her parents, Virgil and Eva Wolfe, were always close to Virgie in spirit, but her mother, an Apache Indian, passed away leaving her father, a Kiowa Indian, alone.

“My dad’s 77 years old. Even though there are other family members there, he needs me.”

Williams is teetering on the brink of realizing her dream.

“I always wanted to do something special,” she said. “There are big dreamers in America, and I’m one of them.“

And she’s not about to let go of that dream now that she has it by the tail.

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