At the March 5 men’s basketball game against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students heard Cameron Indoor Stadium staples, including “Everytime We Touch,” “Sail” and “All I Do Is Win.” Among that list was the national anthem, which was sung this year by a Duke alumna.
Julie Williams, Trinity ‘19, performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the rivalry showdown, which was Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s last home game.
“The most nerve-wracking part of singing the anthem at Duke is that you have to sing it right after ‘Everytime We Touch.’ When everyone is jumping and dancing around is when you walk into the center,” Williams said. “Both teams are on your left and right looking at you and the students are going crazy.”
Williams, a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, Tenn., has sung the anthem at many events before, from various Duke sporting events to baseball games for her home team, the Tampa Bay Rays. This performance, however, bore special significance.
“I'm usually not a person that gets nervous, but with this game, as soon as I start to really think of the significance of it I start to get nervous,” Williams said days before she took the stage. “Just thinking about Coach K, what he means to Duke and what he means to so many people around the world.”
While sipping chamomile tea with lemon and honey on her drive from Nashville to Durham on Friday night, Williams recounted her time as a Cameron Crazie. Her passion for basketball began when she first found out she had been accepted to Duke on April 7, 2015—also her birthday. She tuned into the men’s basketball NCAA tournament following her acceptance and watched Duke win the national championship title.
“I was like: I'm in, I love Duke and I love Duke basketball,” Williams said.
While completing the degree requirements for her public policy major, Williams took the most extreme route to the rivalry game and black tented her sophomore, junior and senior years, even taking up the position as the scheduler for her tent in her final year.
“I was very serious about basketball,” she said. “Some of my best memories were made in Cameron Indoor Stadium, bowing down to Coach K as he walked in.”
Williams’s Duke experience was rounded out with her positions as a vocalist for the Duke Jazz Ensemble and as an artist for Small Town Records. There, she got her first recording experience and was able to open for indie rock band Mt. Joy in 2018.
She has stayed connected to the University since graduation through the Duke Entertainment, Media & Arts Network, but March 5 was her first Duke-North Carolina game since her senior year, when Zion Williamson broke his shoe just seconds into the infamous game.
Williams initially thought she would go to Nashville after graduation for just a brief time, taking a musical gap year. She has been there for almost three years now and says she is loving it.
In addition to writing, performing and recording music, Williams has been focusing on the Black country music scene in Nashville, which she called “really inspiring and full of really incredible people.” She also recently released her song “Southern Curls” with a fan-funded music video.
“It has been a really exciting past few years,” she said.
Williams describes her music as “mixed, like me.” It is primarily country, with influences from pop, jazz and Americana. Most of her songs are story-based.
“At the heart of every song I write is a story—stories I've lived and wished I’d been able to hear when I was younger listening to country music,” she said.
Many of these stories have to do with Williams’s racial identity and her encounters with racism, something that she grappled with at Duke. Her first visit to Duke was on the same weekend when a noose was found on campus, and her years at the University were clouded with other cases of racism.
Still, the community and spaces at Duke enabled her to process these difficult moments, she said. There was a support network that helped her to understand, contextualize and ultimately share her lived experiences, she said.
“I don't think I would have done the work that then resulted in these songs if I didn't have those experiences and wasn't surrounded by the community at Duke,” Williams said.
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Maria Morrison is a Trinity senior and a digital strategy director for The Chronicle's 117th volume. She was previously managing editor for Volume 116.