With a voice that exudes gentle warmth and songwriting skills that landed her on the payroll of Warner/Chappell, Joy Williams enjoyed careers as both a successful CCM artist and a dedicated songwriter during the 2000s before forming the secular Americana/folk act the Civil Wars with John Paul White. During their five years together, the duo won four Grammys and topped the Billboard 200. Williams returned to a solo career in 2015, releasing Venus, her first solo album as a secular singer/songwriter.
Born in West Branch, Michigan to a church leader and his wife, Joy Elizabeth Williams spent much of her early childhood in rural Michigan before the family moved to Mount Hermon, California while she was in grade school. She not only sang in church but wrote her own songs starting in her early teens. After turning down a recording contract at the age of 14 to have a more normal childhood, she signed with Reunion Records at 17 and released her self-titled debut album in 2001. Blending elements of contemporary Christian music and an intimate form of pop, she followed it with By Surprise in 2002 and Genesis in 2005, also for Reunion Records. All three albums landed on the Billboard Top Christian Albums chart, and Williams was nominated for nearly a dozen Dove Awards before parting ways with the label.
Williams then expanded beyond sacred music, serving as a songwriter for Warner/Chappell Music and founding her own company, Sensibility Music, with husband Nate Yetton. In 2008, she met John Paul White at a songwriting camp in her then-base of Nashville. Williams issued five solo EPs in 2009 via Sensibility: One of Those Days, Charmed Life (Remixes), Songs from This, Songs from That, and More Than I Asked For: Celebrating Christmas with Joy Williams. That same year, she and White released Live at Eddie's Attic, their debut as the Civil Wars. Williams put out another solo EP, We Mapped the World, in 2010 before committing to the Civil Wars full-time.
Noted for their elegant vocal harmonies and bittersweet blend of country, folk, and pop, the Civil Wars' first studio album, Barton Hollow, reached number ten on the Billboard 200, topped the independent albums and folk charts, and landed in the Top 20 in the U.K. and Canada. It went on to win Best Folk Album at the 2012 Grammy Awards, while the title track won them Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Sophomore album The Civil Wars followed in 2013 and went to number one in the U.S. and Canada, reaching number two in the U.K. That year, they won a Grammy for their featured spot on the Taylor Swift song "Safe & Sound" from The Hunger Games soundtrack. In January 2014, they took home a fourth Grammy — their second for Best Country Duo/Group Performance — for "From This Valley" from their eponymous LP. The duo officially disbanded that August.
Williams returned in mid-2015 with her first solo album in a decade. Distancing herself somewhat from the sounds of Nashville and the Civil Wars, it offered soft-spoken adult pop produced by Matto Morris, Charlie Peacock, and Daniel James, with Williams, Yetton, and Justin Timberlake listed as executive producers. Venus reached the Top Ten of the Billboard alternative chart as well as peaking at 71 on the Billboard 200. An abbreviated acoustic version of the album followed in 2016. She stuck with an acoustic sensibility on the 2018 singles "The Trouble with Wanting" and "Canary," which were both included on her 2019 LP Front Porch (Sensibility/Thirty Tigers). ~ Marcy Donelson & Ashleigh Kittle