The Amazingly Talented Marsha McWilson

On Saturday, December 10, Niagara Falls’ own Marsha McWilson,  performed a benefit for Niagara Catholic High School, The Christmas show  featured McWilson’s interpretations of songs by legends like Etta James, Tina Turner, Gladys Knight, and Aretha Franklin. She was backed by The Beautiful Music Band. Joining her on stage was also fellow entertainer Richie Derwald.

No stranger to this area, she is one of the most talented (and busiest!) song-stylists the Falls has ever produced.  Born and raised in Niagara Falls the youngest of 12 children born to parents Pauline and Roger Walker. She is a graduate of Niagara Falls High School.

Marsha learned music from her older brother, Roger Walker Jr., who is currently a premier choir director in Atlanta . Also, Kathy Jordan, who married the Rev. Al Sharpton, was her youth choir director at St. John’s AME Church. She was taught by Bruce Parker, the pianist there, and Constance Matthews, the premier gospel singer.

She performed her first solo at age 6 at St. John AME with Ann “Tee” Barlow on piano, and did her first recording at the Niagara Falls Convention Center, with the St. John’s AME choir.

After high school   she recorded with Jerome Ferrell, of the Lighthouse Choir in Buffalo, on the Bobby Jones Show in the early 1990s and did a live performance in Toronto. Then she recorded with Ella Robinson and the New Beginnings Choir.

She is also a song writer and wrote the lyrics to the gospel/inspirational hit “I Need aBalance.”

“I wrote the lyrics to ‘I Need a Balance,’ and Steven McCaster wrote the music and produced it and I recorded it in one take. It’s available on iTunes. I am married to Howard McWilson – he’s my biggest backer and we’ve been married over 20 years. And we have two miracle sons, who we waited six years to have; Jaylan Caleb and Cameron Connor. They play piano and drums and both sing. I’ve made a band! They are handsome and polite and are students at Niagara Catholic.

“I wrote the song ‘Balance’ because you get out of balance with family, a job and church, and everybody pulling at you. That hit put me on the map and I began to travel with the Bobby Jones Show and I did a live performance at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

‘So, I had a taste of the big time!

 'Someone heard my song on MySpace and I became the first woman to lead a choir down the fashion runway at the worldwide fashion week in Toronto. It blew my mind. The next day, I opened for Donnie McClurkin and Tamela Mann at Kleinhans and sang ‘Balance.’The crowd took over and started singing it and I couldn’t continue and I couldn’t leave the stage. It was a miracle.”

When did she start doing tributes to Etta James?

“People told me I looked like Etta and sang like her and I began to learn her songs. I had sung gospel all my life, but I learned the blues came out of gospel. Four years ago, Toby Rotella asked me to make history and had me do the Gospel Blues Brunch. So, I started doing a full gospel service for the Niagara Falls Blues Festival, and it’s grown bigger and bigger. We do Etta (Jackson) and Aretha (Franklin). That’s where it all began. I was also asked to perform at the Topper in Niagara Falls and the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo.

What’s it like to be on stage?

“I’m really consumed when I’m on stage – I’m not even conscious. I’m in another realm. After it’s over, I look at my own self and say, ‘Who was that?’ God has given me the ability to share gospel music, jazz and blues. It’s a gift, every time I sing.I’m also an evangelist, with the Zion Dominion Global Ministries in Amherst. Dr. Roderick L. Hennings is my pastor and Pamela Hennings is my first lady. And, I’ve also been personally trained as a motivational speaker by Les Brown, who is a world renowned motivational speaker.

Marsha recallshow she met Tyler Perry:

“Bobby Jones – the biggest gospel singer around – has allowed me to sing gospel with him on the Tom Joyner Cruise each year for the past four years and people told me Tyler Perry was going to be on that cruise last year and my husband told me, ‘If he sees you, he’s going to pick you’and that I needed to go.

“But I found out – when I was there and on the spot – that there wouldn’t be any singing, just acting. But he picked me! And I got my song directly into his hands! I wrote that song, ‘Balance,’ for Tyler Perry and I knew one day I would give it to him.

“He told us, ‘I’ve got 200 projects and trust me, you guys are going somewhere.” And he put me in his No. 1 drama show, “If Loving You is Wrong.” The episode I was in played seven or eight times on OWN – Oprah’s network. He flew me into Atlanta first class and I had a limo driver, a beautiful suite, my own makeup artist, wardrobe person and my own assistant for three days. Tyler Perry was phenomenal. He was so nice and sweet and a little shy. He personally directed me. He made me very comfortable.”

In addition to being a superstar performer, she isa wife, mother, professional hairdresser,  motivational speaker and evangelist!

How she manages to do it all?

“God allows me to do this,” she said. “You’ve got to have passion and you’ve got to love it.