“Grace” Composer Nolan Williams Jr.’s Dream Day in DC

“When I started reading this story, the only way to describe it is that the story started singing to me,” says Williams, 53, to whom the books were gifted by the late arts administrator and of the museum, Steven Newsome. “I’m not really a foodie, but I’m a history buff, and what I’ve discovered in the process is how these food traditions capture history in such an interesting way. Before I knew it, I was writing music.

These songs eventually became the score for “Grace», a musical whose world premiere will take place from March 19 to May 14 at Ford’s Theatre. The Robert Barry Fleming-led show, which features jazz, R&B, classical music and spirituals, centers on a Philadelphia family as they mourn the loss of their matriarch and contemplate the future of their restaurant family. In addition to composing the music and lyrics, Williams co-wrote the musical’s book with Pulitzer Prize-winning Nikkole Salter.

Northwest resident Williams stays in the spirit of ‘Grace’ on her ideal day in DC, enjoying the cooking of a pair of elite chefs before taking the stage to bring her own artistry to the public.

My dream day would start with pancakes. I’ve spent years organizing pancakes in the area and believe it or not the best pancakes were at Hyatt Regency on New Jersey Avenue NW. I really curse the pandemic because they removed pancakes there when covid hit. So on my perfect day, the Hyatt Regency restaurant would be restored and they would serve me my favorite pancakes.

Then I was going with some of my best friends to my favorite museum, which is the Hirschhorn. Of course, I would go see the Mark Bradford exhibit for, like, the 10th time. I might even have a private tour of the Yayoi Kusama exhibit and be able to spend hours there, because there is something about it that is not only aesthetically beautiful but deeply meditative. And you should go to Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. I’m not trying to say anything derogatory about the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, but, for me, the Hirshhorn is my favorite, hands down.

For lunch, I met chef Carla Hall, who is the culinary ambassador of “Grace”. She lives less than 10 minutes from me, and she’s a really dear friend and she’s amazing in the kitchen. So maybe I’ll go over to Carla’s and we hang out – she’s up to something, there’s a few people around and it’s just good conversation.

After lunch I would like to go to Port of Washington. It’s a place I’ve always gone to just to think and reflect. So it would be amazing to have an empty pier with the waterfall and the ability to take a water taxi around the Potomac. And if it’s my dream day, Kwame Onwuachi would be back here in DC and I’d have a private chef’s table experience to dine with him at Friends/relatives [which closed in 2020].

Then I would go to Kennedy Center for a concert. And you know what an ideal concert would be? If I conducted Nova Y. Payton, Rayshun LaMarr and the cast of “Grace” with the National Symphony Orchestra. It would be this really amazing mix of artists and art forms, and the music would be very eclectic. We’ll have the after-party on Washington Hotel on the roof, then end the day by going down to Salamander Resort and Spa spend the night at [“Grace” hospitality ambassador] Property of Sheila C. Johnson.

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