Big Sam's Funky Nation

Backed by his band, Funky Nation, Sammie “Big Sam” Williams wields his trombone with a funk-driven, energetic authority that delights audiences from Frenchmen Street to France. Raised in the uptown Twelfth Ward and New Orleans East, an adolescent Williams ended up in the school marching band when basketball didn’t work out. The only instrument available was the trombone, but legendary teachers like Darrell Dickerson, Kidd Jordan, and, later, at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, Clyde Kerr recognized the youngster’s innate talent and drive. They taught him the techniques and ear training that would serve him as he launched his musical career. That raw talent may be genetic, however: Williams’ great-grandfather is jazz legend Buddy Bolden.  

While still in high school, Williams founded the local Stooges Brass Band, and at the ripe old age of 19 was called up by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He toured around the world with the Dozen, playing some 300 shows a year for over three years, honing his stage chops while playing alongside artists like James Brown, Widespread Panic, and Karl Densen. He also recorded and toured with legends Allen Touissaint and Elvis Costello on their 2006 “River in Reverse” CD, which was nominated for a Grammy.

Williams first assembled the Funky Nation as a side project, then as a full-time band after he left the Dozen. He writes much of his own material, drawing from funk, jazz, hip-hop, and blues traditions. His high-energy singing, dancing, and horn-playing ensured the band’s popularity almost from the get-go. High-profile gigs at VoodooFest, Bonnaroo, SXSW, Austin City Limits, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival cemented their reputation.

Big Sam’s Funky Nation has released a half a dozen albums, including the debut “Birth of a Nation” in 2003, the 2010 breakout CD “King of the Party,” and the 2018 “Songs in the Key of Funk, Vol. 1.” He showcases his straight-ahead side with a more jazz-oriented group, Big Sam’s Crescent City Connection.

With his deep family connections to Buddy Bolden and New Orleans jazz history, Williams actively supports preservation programs, such as the restoration of Bolden’s home on First Street. When not touring around the globe, he can be heard in various clubs along Frenchmen Street and at festivals and other venues.


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