When she discusses the recent end of a 20-year relationship with her personal and musical partner, Tret Fure, the Joni Mitchell-esque singer/songwriter uses the imagery of the phoenix rising from the ashes.
"The bird willingly sets itself on fire -- I did not want this change to occur, but I took the path willingly," Williamson said.
But the phoenix imagery doesn't stop with her previous relationship. It's also included the conception and production of Williamson's new album, Ashes, the tour for which brings her to the Carrboro ArtsCenter at 300-G E. Main St. on Oct. 19.
Rebirth seems to be Williamson's signature way of overcoming difficulties and molding them into her work, a method that garnered Williamson praise from artists like Bonnie Raitt.
In the example of her current work on Ashes, she said she addresses her relationship's demise but does so in a way that taps into renewal's universal appeal.
"Most good writing should move from the personal to the universal," Williamson said.
Although she said she had reservations about calling it a genre, Williamson has been an active pioneer of the "women's music" genre since her first album in 1964. Roughly 38 years later, Williamson receives kudos from artists for the changes she has wrought in the industry over the course of her 14-album career.
And there have been many obstacles along the way that would have forced Williamson to stop if it weren't for her faith in renewal.
While Williamson's not exactly a household name -- those who watch the Billboard charts probably haven't heard of her -- she has managed to create a large cult following and a constant work schedule has sustained her sufficiently.
"I've been able to make a good living by never stopping," she said.
Being a lesbian and confronting sexual politics and gender roles through her work -- once more moving from the personal to the universal -- have also presented challenges to the artist. For example, Williamson has struggled against mainstream record labels that cannot find a place for her in the musical spectrum.
Nevertheless, the older, wiser figure, while watching young pop divas race up the charts, does not begrudge them their success and popularity. Williamson likens their success in the industry to a path hard travelled by early artists forging the way.
"I just hope that the women who run down that road now remember that somebody made the road for them," she said.
Williamson, who originally aspired to become an English teacher, often teaches songwriting workshops. She will teach a workshop for two days following her performance, and she said teaching people to write and perform in their own voice is as rewarding as it is intense.
"This is a very compressed, on-fire type of activity," she said.
She's a teacher through example. By continuing to perform work from her entire career and then teaching others tools with which to express themselves, Williamson keeps communicating her message of rebirth.
And in the process, she revitalizes the talent pool for the genre she helped create.
"I believe in giving people the keys to open their own doors."
Cris Williamson will be performing at 8 p.m. Oct. 19 at the ArtsCenter. Her workshop, "Song of the Soul," will be held on Oct. 20 and 21.
Call the ArtsCenter at 929-2787 for ticket information.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at email@example.com.
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