Less than one year after the release of Destiny’s Child’s first album as a trio, Survivor, the ladies of Destiny’s Child began their solo careers. In the fall of 2001, the group announced their intent to release solo projects. First up on the solo train was newcomer Michelle Williams.
Upon the announcement, many were surprised to learn that Michelle would be the first of the trio to release her solo set. However, it was a wise decision to help attract Destiny’s Child fans to a Gospel album by its newest member. Indeed, Heart to Yours was a bit different from what Destiny’s Child fans were accustomed to lyrically, and sonically it was a bit of a change too. Heart to Yours was released amidst several Destiny’s Child promotions in the Spring of 2002. The group’s remix album, This Is The Remix was released in March and their autobiography in April. When the album was released, Destiny’s Child was still in the middle of a World Tour that had been postponed due to 9/11, and Heart to Yours benefitted from all the visibility these events provided.
As we already detailed, the project was jumpstarted by the lead single “Heard a Word” in March. The full album arrived just over a month later. In 2017, it is hard to remember a time when Michelle Williams was just the new girl in Destiny’s Child. Since then, she has become not only an essential part of the iconic trio, but an industry veteran and superstar in her own right.
Yet, before Heart to Yours, Michelle had only appeared on two of Destiny’s Child’s five studio albums, Survivor and 8 Days of Christmas, both released in 2001. Between the two albums, she had solo singing parts on 17 songs in total (give or take a few, I don’t like math). As far as entirely solos songs go, she had only recorded one: a cover of “O’ Holy Night.” As a result, we – the fans, the general public – had limited familiarity with her as an individual, and as an artist. Her aptly titled debut album changed all that, though.
Heart to Yours was the first time that fans got to hear Michelle’s voice front and center in such a big way. It was also the first time that we got to hear from, well, her heart. The same was true for Beyoncé and Kelly when they released their debut albums, but it was especially significant for Michelle as a new member who had never penned a Destiny’s Child song. Regardless of that, what Destiny’s Child sang did not represent them as individuals, it represented a force of three women united. Their solo music, however, is inherently more personal. Heart to Yours was our most personal window into who Michelle is as an artist, and vocalist.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Michelle delivered some great vocals in Destiny’s Child. Even still, never did she have such an opportunity to shine like she does on Heart to Yours. Fittingly, as it is a gospel set, Michelle takes it to church on numerous occasions. I already went through and praised how she did just that on “Heard a Word.” Now, its time to go through some more vocal moments from Heart to Yours that turned me into a full fledged Michelle Williams fan at the tender age of 11.
There are several more songs in particular where Michelle goes all the way in, and they’re must-listens. First, there’s the title track, “Heart to Yours.” The perfect album title was paired with the perfect title track. It seemingly has a double meaning, with Michelle speaking to her listeners, to let us know that this body of work is simultaneously from her heart to ours, and to God’s. To show just how serious she was about it, she wastes no time by kicking off the album with an impressive vocal moment, closing the opening track with some flawless ad-libs.
Meanwhile, on the inspiring and soulful mid tempo “Change the World,” Michelle more or less delivers a beautiful yet subdued vocal performance until that bridge rolls around (we ALL know that Michelle was the Queen of the Bridge in Destiny’s Child). The way she takes the vocals up in a crescendo, well… she effortlessly uplifts your spirit and makes you believe that you can change the world. She goes on throughout the rest of the song, elevating the track superbly.
Next, is “Everything,” an inspirational bop that recalls the Mary J. Blige song of the same title, but Michelle’s is of course about trusting in God. The song, like “Change the World,” seems like it will just bop along peacefully, but then comes the bridge where Michelle unsuspectingly unleashes some vocal acrobatics to assure you that everything will be just fine.
My personal favorite from the album is “You Care For Me,” a blissful, nearly 6-minute long praise session featuring Isaac Carree and Lowell Pye of Gospel singing group Men of Standard. Once again, Michelle lets the song ease on by at first. Then comes the halfway mark, when the Holy Spirit seemingly swooped down into Michelle in the recording booth because, honey… If she was at a Pulpit delivering this sermon, that Pulpit would’ve been straight annihilated. Church hats would’ve been snatched off, tossed into the air, and churchgoers would be laid out in the aisles. The choir would’ve been standing there shook and the organ would render itself out of tune. “You Care For Me” is the Holiest of vocal slays.
Michelle clearly had no regard for anyone’s careers on this album. As if “You Care For Me” didn’t floor her listeners well enough, she brought in Pastor Shirley Caesar for the next song, “Steal Away to Jesus,” to continue the deliverance of vocal slayage. Together, the pair fittingly take it all the way to church for their rendition of this classic Gospel standard. Impassioned and powerful vocals are in full effect on this duet as Pastor Caesar anoints Michelle with the inarguable seal of approval of the First Lady of Gospel.
Michelle was not finished though. She took one more turn at anyone left standing with “Rock With Me.” As the title suggests, the song is a rock-tinged Gospel ballad praising Jesus in a Jesus Christ Superstar, rock-n-roll fashion. It kicks off with a dramatic and flawlessly-executed piano-and-vocal rendition of Gospel standard “Cornerstone” before warping into a fierce and fiery anthem that will have you stomping, chanting and praising Jesus even if you aren’t necessarily about that life. Michelle proves her place in the industry, and Destiny’s Child, is inarguable at the end of “Rock With Me” as she soars through the song’s closing ad-libs to showcase just how powerful and electrifying her voice can be.
“Rock With Me” also serves another purpose: it introduced fans to Michelle’s varied taste in music. She always talked about listening to all types of music growing up, and “Rock With Me” showed that she is not limited to Pop, R&B and Gospel. Even then, the musical landscape of Heart to Yours is rather diverse. For example, the aforementioned “Everything” is very R&B, while “Heard a Word” has Jazz influences. Similarly, the gorgeous title track, as well “Change the World” and the Carl Thomas duet “Heaven” show her ability to churn out a Neo-Soul inspired groove. Of course, tracks like “You Care For Me” and “Steal Away to Jesus” show how she can still bring it back home to that classic Churchy, Gospel sound.
Indeed, the album has quite the impressive list of collaborators. The guest list is stacked. There’s First Lady of Gospel Pastor Shirley Caesar, R&B crooner Carl Thomas, the Men of Standard, and the recycling of the Destiny’s Child Gospel Medley. Last but not least, she also enlisted the help of Gospel duo Mary Mary on “So Glad.” The collaboration is a fitting one because, like Michelle, Mary Mary combined R&B sensibilities to help pioneer the more contemporary sound of Gospel music (and were, like Michelle, harshly criticized for it). Unsurprisingly, the three ladies sound great together on “So Glad;” it’s a natural collaboration. Behind the scenes, Michelle also collaborated with her brother Erron Williams on two songs (“Heart to Yours,” “Rock With Me”).
Finally, on songs like “Everything,” “Sun Will Shine Again” and “Better Place (9/11),” Michelle showed yet another side of herself that fans would come to know quite well: her compassion. On “Shine,” she encourages listeners to keep their heads up in the face of adversity. “Better Place,” meanwhile, is dedicated to the families of the victims of 9/11. Produced by Destiny’s Child collaborator Damon Elliott, “Better Place” is the album’s most pop-sounding moment. The song is also one of its most personal, having been co-written by Michelle herself. It was not the only song she had a hand in writing, though. The title track, lead single “Heard a Word,” and “Everything” also bear Michelle’s name in the credits. These songs mark the first time Michelle showcased her songwriting abilities. Throughout the years, she would continue to grow in this aspect of her artistry. Michelle went on to cowrite on DC3’s Destiny Fulfilled as well as some of her most personal songs in her catalogue, such as 2014’s “Believe in Me.”
Fifteen years ago, Michelle Williams released arguably the most important album of her career: her solo debut. In the years since, she’s gone on to release three more albums and has consistently grown as an artist, with each album improving upon the last in terms of quality and artistic depth. Heart to Yours was a pivotal stepping stone that formally introduced Michelle Williams to the world as an individual and an artist. Her solid debut set laid the groundwork for a successful career and established a long-standing an unbreakable bond between Michelle and her most loyal fans.
Stream Michelle Williams’ Heart to Yours: