For gospel singer Marion Williams, winning a $374,000 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" Monday is the best thing to happen since she found Jesus.
"I feel like this is a blessing," said Williams, the first singer ever to win one of the no-strings-attached grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The 30 other winners announced Monday include Amory Bloch Lovins, an energy efficiency expert; National Public Radio creator William H. Siemering; New York-based writer and critic Stanley Crouch; Frank von Hippel, an expert at Princeton University on national security, energy and physics; and midwifery advocate Ruth Watson Lubic.
The 18 men and 13 women split $9.2-million in grants ranging from $220,000 to $375,000, paid over five years. Recipients are nominated by anonymous talent scouts seeking "originality, dedication to creative pursuits and capacity for self-direction," said Ted Hearne, spokesman for the Chicago-based foundation.
The grant amount is determined by a recipient's age and can be used for any purpose. Since 1981, the organization, whose founder made his fortune in the insurance industry, has given out more than $120-million in awards to 414 fellows.
Williams, who lives in Philadelphia, said she will donate some of her money to the needy and indulge some on herself.
"I really think this means that after years of hard work and suffering and toiling and whatever, this is the time for me to enjoy a little bit," she said.
"I've never been so happy, other than receiving salvation," she said. "I think this is the next greatest thing in my life."
The 65-year-old Miami-born singer has been recording since 1947. She is known for her rendition of Amazing Grace.) "That's one song that gets to most everybody. It's a song that gets to the heart of man," Williams has said.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide has hailed Williams as "the greatest singer ever."
The MacArthur Foundation said she exerted a profound influence on gospel, rock 'n' roll and soul music.
Stanley Crouch said his $290,000 grant will allow him to work undistracted on a biography of saxophonist Charlie Parker and other projects.
"You've just got to be pretty surprised and happy when someone calls you up and says they're going to give you nearly $300,000 _ unless maybe you're Ross Perot," he said.
_ Information from Times files was used in this report.