You might not see him, but you’ll definitely hear him on Inauguration Day.
His booming, baritone voice will reverberate across the sprawling National Mall on Monday, as he announces the arrival of the country’s most powerful leaders to the inaugural platform from a spot inside the Capitol.
His “commanding and resonant voice,” as the military describes it, will set the pace of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s second swearing-in ceremony, keeping the sea of people gathered far from the inaugural platform abreast of what’s happening on the West Front.
His name is Courtney R. Williams. Officially, he’s concert moderator for the United States Navy Band.
Unofficially, he is known as the “Voice of the Navy.”
His voice has been heard at dozens of high-profile events in and around the nation’s capital, including the 2009 inauguration.
And now, on the eve of Obama and Biden’s second swearing-in ceremonies, he’s gearing up to once again take the mic for the big event.
From the time he was young, Williams said, his voice stood out for its deep, baritone qualities.
“My mom says that when my younger brother was born, she always thought he had a really squeaky voice,” Williams said. “Until one day, she realized that it wasn’t that he had a squeaky voice, it was that mine was always sort of inordinately low.”
He developed a love for music and singing from his home in the Nashville suburbs, a geographical location that gave him access to concerts at the famous Grand Ole Opry and visiting Broadway shows in Music City.
“I always loved music, and when I was in middle school I figured out that I had at least some kind of inclination to it and started pursuing it a little more,” said Williams, who went on to study music at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with George Bitzas, the tenor known for singing the national anthem at University of Tennessee football games.
When it came time to look for a career, Williams said, the military was always on his radar; both of his grandfathers served, one as a medic in Korea and the other in Germany after World War II. After learning the Navy had an official chorus, Williams decided to audition as a civilian for a spot in the singing group.
He won the job as a member of the Navy Sea Chanters in 1996, and spent nearly a decade singing with the group before becoming the concert moderator and announcer for the Navy Concert Band in 2004. (All members of the military bands are enlisted servicemembers and go through boot camp.)
Getting It Right
Williams has been the announcer for such events as the opening of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library, where he introduced all of the living presidents, and at high-profile events for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lending credence to his title as the Voice of the Navy.
“It always makes me smile when I’m introduced that way, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually introduced myself that way,” Williams said of the moniker.
The highlight — so far — of his announcing career came in 2009, when he was selected to be the announcer of the 56th Presidential Inauguration, where his voice was heard by the 1.5 million people who traveled to Washington, D.C., to witness the inauguration of the first African-American president.
“It was nerve-wracking,” Williams said of the experience. “It was one of those things where you bury yourself into it, and it wasn’t till after it was over that I kind of was able to reflect back on it and enjoy the experience.”
Williams was given the script for the ceremony about a week in advance, and he’s been studying and practicing the pronunciations to make sure he gets everything just right. “I want to make sure the weight of the importance of the ceremony is conveyed in the way people are presented,” Williams said. “So I want to come across with some gravitas but not come across as a WWF announcer.”
But most of all, Williams said, “I really don’t want to mispronounce somebody’s name.”