Dr. Otis Williams
Dr. Otis Williams is the founding, and only surviving, member of the original, legendary, super-group The Temptations.
What do you love about Texarkana?
It’s my birthplace, so I’ll always love it and call it home. It’s where my mother, Hazel Louise Williams and my father, Otis Miles, grew up and met. I lived in Texarkana with my grandparents because my mother moved to Detroit to find work, and I joined her when I was around eleven years old. I have so many happy memories of those times with my grandparents who earned their living farming in Texarkana. I never wanted for anything as a kid, especially since I was the first grandchild on either side of the family. I loved being around family and extended family. We lived in a small black community with its own Baptist church and school. I remember attending Sunset Elementary School, which was a one-story building with one classroom for each grade, first through sixth. I loved school because as an only child at the time, it meant being around other kids and having fun together.
Who is someone from Texarkana who impacted your life and why?
My two grandmothers, Grandmother Gooden and Grandmother Lucinda Eliga, who both raised me, had a tremendous impact on my life. First of all, they doted on me and I loved every minute of it, but at the same time they didn’t let me get away with anything. They taught me to be respectful and polite to others and to work hard. Both of my grandmothers were strict Baptists who loved to go to church. It was in their homes and at church that I was first exposed to music very early in my life. We would sit in the wooden church pews every Sunday and listen to sermons and then sing hymns, all full of the love of God. My grandmothers loved singing gospel songs and the old spirituals around the house. I can still see them singing and strutting around the house with their dresses flapping around them and pointing their fingers in the air while their heavenly voices filled the house. They loved listening to many of the gospel greats like Mahalia Jackson, Clara Ward, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the Soul Stirrers, The Pilgrim Travelers, and others. So, my love of music started with my grandmothers and the rest is history.
What is your favorite Texarkana Memory?
Church was at the center of our lives, and I’ll never forget the time I had to recite a poem about Jesus for a special church meeting. Grandmother Gooden made me practice every day for weeks. My mother was making a special trip from Detroit just to see my recital. On the day of the event, I stood before the members of church and delivered the poem perfectly, and the whole church broke out in applause. My mother arrived late, so I was crushed that she had missed my recital, but the church pastor and my grandmother arranged to have me get up and do it a second time in front of everyone again but this time with my mother sitting in the audience. I was so happy, and I will never forget that we shared my first performance experience together.
How do you describe Texarkana to your friends?
It was a great town to grow up in as a young kid because the pace of life was slow, and I was surrounded by so much love from my grandparents and family. Unlike much bigger cities, there wasn’t a whole lot for a young kid to do. Our circle of family and friends was so close, so I felt shielded from societal issues. It was the 1940s, and communities were segregated, but I was too young to understand all that it meant. Every now and again, we would come up against some other young boys wanting to fight, but my grandparents were very strict, so I knew if I got out of pocket, I’d have to answer to them, and I wasn’t about to run that risk. What I remember most are the wonderful family gatherings, uplifting church meeting and lots of great food.
What was your favorite place to eat in Texarkana? Any interesting stories to tell about that place?
Hands down, I have to say my favorite places to eat were in my Grandmothers’ kitchens. My grandmothers were both great cooks, and they always had something delicious cooking on the stove. I loved Grandmother Eliga’s hot water bread! If I close my eyes now and think back to the days in her kitchen, I can still smell that sweet aroma of the bread wafting throughout the house and into the yard. If I was outside on the porch, she would call me, saying, “Otis, Granny’s fixin you some hot water bread,” and I would drop everything and take off running to the kitchen. Those were some wonderful times.
What was one of your hangouts when you lived here?
As a young kid, one of my favorite places to hang out was at the train station. I had lots of cousins, but my favorite person to hang with was my cousin, Calvin. He was around ten or eleven and I was younger, so I would tag along with him most of the time. Very often, we would get together in our spare time and head into town to the train station. It was about a mile walk from my grandmother’s house to town. On our way to the train station, we would stop at a little store in town that sold all kinds of toys and puzzles. Like most young kids, I would never turn down the opportunity to get a new toy. I loved toys, and whenever we’d pass the little toy store, I would imagine we had money and I would make a list in my head of all the things I would buy from the store. Once we got to the train station, we would literally sit on a bench at the station for hours and talk and watch the long freight trains pass by. We would always try to imagine where the trains were coming from, what they were carrying and where they were headed. This was back in 40s, and Calvin and I had never ridden on a train at that time, so we were really fascinated by them, like most kids.
What do you miss about Texarkana?
I miss those special times with my grandparents and family. It was a small town and everyone in our community knew just about everyone else. It was a plain, rural farm town at that time, but I was a young kid, and I hadn’t been exposed to big city life yet, so as a child with a big loving family, I felt I had it all.
Is there anything coming up that you would like to share with fans?
Yes, starting this June 2021 through June 2022, the Temptations will be celebrating 60 Years! It’s a milestone anniversary and I would like to thank all of our fans in Texarkana, Texas, and everywhere around the world, for their continued outpouring of love for our music. We feel blessed to have such loyal fans all these years. Also, I’m pleased to share with you, that the Temptations are the subject of a Broadway musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, and after a year away due to COVID-19, it is returning home to Broadway on October 16, 2021. We hope fans will get a chance to see it. There are also plans for a touring production of the musical to appear in cities around the country, once it becomes safe to do so.
We hope our music will continue to bring joy to audiences of all ages for many years to come.
TXK Roots is Texarkana Magazine’s forum to highlight and honor Texarkana natives who have accomplished big things in the world. These folks may have relocated, but they took the values, education, work ethic and creativity instilled in them by growing up in this unique border city and used these qualities to blaze extraordinary trails. We asked them to share their thoughts about growing up here. No matter how far from Texarkana they may find themselves, we will always consider them our neighbors and we are proud to claim them as forever members of our extended Texarkana community. After all, “everyone is famous in their hometown!”