William H. (Bill) Morris, founder and president of the successful insurance agency The William Morris Group, shared his faith journey and details how his friendships with music legends forever changed his life in a Q&A with The Christian Post about his new book.
This Magic Moment: My Journey of Faith, Friends, and the Father’s Love, released last month, details the God-ordained moments in the businessman’s life and his experiences with some of doo-wop’s greatest artists that tore down racial and societal walls in the music industry at that time.
The William Morris Group, which specializes in elite insurance consulting and marketing, has become a household name but not many people know how the businessman was impacted by his enduring friendships with members of two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame groups, The Moonglows and The Original Drifters.
Morris, a devoted Christian, is president of Hallelujah Productions and produced The Original Drifters’ first two gospel CDs. The life-long native of Jackson, Mississippi, was also instrumental in founding the Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Madison.
Below is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with Morris where he discusses his new book, his faith, and how the music industry has changed since he first formed deep friendships with some of America's doo-wop music legends over three decades ago.
CP: Talk about the power of music and how God has used it in your life.
Morris: I often say that my love for music started in the womb, because it has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I believe God planted that seed of passion to guide me toward my purpose and to put me where He could best use me for His glory. Music touches my soul, connects me to other people, and helps me experience the power of the Holy Spirit.
As a young man, I spent hours listening to music. I loved almost all genres of music: classical, opera, jazz, country, big band, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, and doo-wop. I paid half my way through college hosting dances with some of the popular local groups, and later helped booked big-name bands for my fraternity’s social events while in college.
While I opted for a career in the insurance business, my appreciation for music, especially R&B and doo-wop, never waned. At age 38, with a successful insurance career and a family, the power of music once again intervened in my life in a major way.
Through a series of events that could only have been orchestrated by God, and despite having never had a microphone in my hand, I found myself performing on stage in Washington, D.C., with my favorite group, The Moonglows. A year later, I discovered the purpose of that incredible experience and what else God had planned for me that would enrich the next three decades of my life.
CP: Can you briefly share your faith journey?
Morris: My maternal grandmother was the greatest spiritual influence in my early life. I saw a peace and loving purpose in her that I wanted for my life. However, I did not develop a personal relationship with our Heavenly Father until well into adulthood. A turning point came when my wife, Camille, lost her beloved father unexpectedly at a relatively young age. She was devastated, and I found myself ill-equipped to comfort her. It was then that I sought a deeper faith and understanding.
I committed to give the Lord the first hour of every day to reflect on His Word, pray, and journal about the things happening in my life. I have kept that commitment since February of 1982 and have compiled 18 handwritten journal volumes representing 3,000 legal pages. This “quiet time” of reflection and my “love letters to Him” is a resource that lets me see how His direction has affected the course of my life. Without my journals, I would have never been able to write my new book, This Magic Moment, or to realize how all aspects of the journey I write about were perfectly orchestrated by God.
CP: Can you talk about the spirituality of some of the legends you came across early on?
Morris: Most legends of R&B and doo-wop music learned to sing in the church and their spiritual roots influenced their music and their lives. And, while the lifestyle and trappings of a music career are not always compatible with a spiritual life, my dear musical friends — Prentiss Barnes, Bill Pinkney, Harvey Fuqua and Rufus McKay — loved the Lord and when it mattered, acknowledged and treasured their faith.
Bill Pinkney of The Original Drifters used to close his show by saying: “The Lord has been mighty good to me. Would you mind if I end tonight with a gospel song?” That led me to ask Bill if he had ever thought about recording a gospel CD, and ultimately, to establishing Hallelujah Productions and recording The Original Drifters' first two gospel CDs. A shared love of the Lord was key to my relationship with each of them. I had the honor of praying with them, for them, and to speak and sing at each one of their funerals when they were “called home.”
CP: What difference have you seen in music and the industry throughout the years?
Morris: The music of my childhood and early adulthood was all about boy meets girl, falls in love, and for the most part, the positive parts of our lives. In the 1960s, we experienced the “British invasion” and rise of rock music versus rock 'n' roll, as well as protest songs about the war, politics and social issues, typically performed in a folk style. Next, heavy metal and rap music came into prominence. Country music and Christian music have also both been through numerous evolutions and are now quite broad in their styles and appeal.
The industry has changed radically. Artists have a great deal more power. They have many ways to gain a following and share their music and are more likely to have written and own their songs, in addition to sharing a role in the production process. Technology can greatly enhance artists’ performances both for recordings and live performances, and the cost of distribution has been greatly reduced as a result of downloading music today. Today’s artists are “brands” that can be used to sell other products. The role of live performances and tours has also changed greatly. Concerts used to be to promote record sales. Today, concerts are mega productions costing millions of dollars that generate huge profits for artists and record companies.
CP: How has social media changed the business of marketing?
Morris: Social media is a wonderful tool for introducing new artists to a large, international audience. However, I still believe the deep connection that causes someone to become a loyal fan of an artist comes from live performance and cannot be duplicated electronically. I do not see that ever-changing. The biggest downside of social media is the loss of privacy. There no longer seems to be “private lives” for music stars, and that is very unfortunate.
CP: What Christian music do you enjoy?
Morris: It is hard to beat many of the traditional hymns that were loved by my family members for generations. Traditional hymns are tried and true, comforting and stirring to my soul. However, I also think the variety of contemporary Christian music today is very exciting and has reached many people for God’s glory that might have been otherwise.
I am a fan of Michael W. Smith and am amazed at the talent God has given him and the millions his music has touched internationally. I am humbled that a mutual connection introduced Michael to my book and that he, in turn, wrote a wonderful endorsement.
“Wow! This book should be a movie! It’s a powerful story of love and brotherhood across the racial divide at a time when our nation needs healing as never before.” — Michael W. Smith
CP: What message do you want people to take away from reading your book?
Morris: Open your eyes to God’s presence and actively seek His counsel, knowing that He has greater plans for our lives than one can even imagine.
I highly recommend designating a specific time on a regular basis to communicate with Him — both so He can speak to you and so you can acknowledge His blessings and grace. Follow His direction and learn to expect amazing things to happen. Our deepest source of joy comes when we are most thankful.
For more information about Morris’ book, This Magic Moment, visit his website. Prentiss Barnes Morris is giving a portion of the book’s sales to MusiCares, a National Academy of Recording Arts & Science organization that supports artists through programs, services and wellness initiatives.