The Power of Music Through Faith
by Shelby C. Berry
“Persistent” is one word that describes 20-year-old bluegrass musician, Samantha Williamson, who, despite having serious health struggles, placed second in the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Competition this May alongside her band Pearlgrace & Co.
Last June, after spells of headaches, tiredness, and the loss of her peripheral vision, Samantha found out that she had a pituitary brain tumor that had been affecting her health for years. When Samantha tells the story, she talks about how music and her faith are really what brought her through this extremely scary and life-changing experience.
Before surgery, the Williamson family shifted focus to Samantha’s health, backing away from practicing and performing music. She was also informed there was a very real possibility that her voice could be different post-surgery.
“I really didn’t know what that would be like for me,” said Samantha. “God definitely used my music to help me through it. When we scheduled the surgery, I felt the urgency to record songs I’d been writing and to finish writing others. During one of my MRIs, I actually worked out the lyrics to a song just lying there. God blessed me in that way. I thought about what was on my heart.”
In October, the surgery day arrived. The Williamsons loaded up and took Samantha to the hospital. Although she suffered complications in surgery, she never lost sight of her love for music – holding hands with her fellow Pearlgrace bandmate and mom, Jill, during the tough moments and just singing what was on her heart.
People often fall back on their favorite songs during a moment of crisis – a soothing tune or a well-written lyric can be the perfect remedy for pain or fear.
For Samantha, that song was This Is My Father’s World. “On the last day I was in the hospital, I felt good enough to play my guitar a bit and sing that song for some of my nurses. There were so many blessings looking back. During some of the hardest parts, I can see what God was doing. For me, when I’m looking back, I see what he’s done so clearly,” said Samantha.
Only eight weeks later, Samantha was able to sing and play a song for her older brother’s wedding. After the wedding, Pearlgrace took a break from performing to give Samantha the time she needed to make a full recovery, and they came back better than ever.
The first performance that Pearlgrace did in over six months was the KSMU Youth in Bluegrass Competition, where they won second place.
A large Oklahoma family, the Williamsons started their musical journey, at least professionally, in 2014 as The Williamson Family Band, but before that, music was intertwined in their lives in every aspect.
“I think we were born into a family of people who play. We grew up in church, and we were always singing there and at home. Our mom always loved music her whole life but she wasn’t exposed to string instruments until later in life when some families in our church were classically trained on violins,” said Samantha.
Jill dreamed of creating a family band with her kids, and after selling some of their belongings on eBay to fund the purchase of violins, they began taking lessons intently for years before finding contest fiddling.
“40 miles away from our hometown lived iconic fiddler Byron Berline, and he would mentor the girls, tell stories about playing and touring with Bill Monroe, and showed them their first real experience playing bluegrass music,” said Jill.
The Williamsons moved to China for a bit in 2015, changing the dynamic of the band with the loss of a few of Samantha’s siblings who stayed in the US. Now with just three band members, Jill, Samantha, and her younger sister Grace, a new band name was necessary.
“We settled on Pearlgrace & Co.,” said Samantha. “Pearls are beautiful and represent the femininity, purity, and simplicity of our band. It represents our attitude and what we want to be. Grace represents the grace of God through Jesus.”
It was during this time that Pearlgrace began crafting the sound that had become so uniquely them.
“There’s a certain beauty and technique to classical music,” said Samantha. “Clarity, precision, and beauty from classical music are what we bring to our current music. We are ever-changing, but we are mostly bluegrass, gospel, classical, and roots. We even do some old-school gospel with a classical feel.”
Now with Jill’s youngest and the newest addition to the band, Elizabeth, in tow as the upright bass player, Pearlgrace has turned their focus to praising God with their music in the wake of Samantha’s illness.
“The main drive of our music is to praise God with our lives. He gave us a gift of music, and we want to pursue that,” said Samantha.
“It’s to praise and worship God and to tell others the gospel. Music can help you through anything. There are mourning songs and dancing songs. It is a neat way to express life. It’s like another language. We tell stories to express life through our music. It brings a lot of value to peoples’ lives. It’s neat to do something you enjoy like that that you can share with other people. I love seeing that it blesses them or reminded them that God sees them where they are. Our music is with people and for people.”
That topic – using faith in their music – seems to be very important to Pearlgrace as a band, especially Samantha, and rightfully so.
“For us, our hope is that our music plays a part in our faith. Our faith comes first. It’s a part of expressing thanks to Him and enjoying who He is. In the future, we hope to get out and share more and be more mobile. We may even get an RV! We’d love to see what happens and what the Lord may do with a ministry like that,” said Samantha.
“Our heart is to encourage other Christians and bring others to come to know Jesus. And bluegrass is a wonderful platform and outlet for faith. Bluegrass is just a part of sharing the joy of faith. The bluegrass community is just so welcoming and kind. There’s nothing like it.”
While humble to her core and an open book when it comes to her faith and the struggles life has thrown her way, Samantha is a force to be reckoned with.
She has thought a lot about what she has gone through, the plans for her family’s future in music, and how much her faith plays into all of that as she moves forward.
“I’m just thankful to be alive, and to sing is such a huge gift. One year ago, I wondered if I would ever be back to normal. I’m just super thankful. Each day is a gift.”