Vanessa Williams Overview

Vanessa Lynn Williams (born March 18, 1963) is an American singer and actress. In 1983, she became the first woman of African-American African American descent to be crowned Miss America, but a scandal caused her to relinquish her title early. Williams rebounded by launching a career as an entertainer, earning Grammy Grammy Award , Emmy Emmy Award , and Tony Award nominations.

Williams was born in Millwood Millwood, New York , New York, the daughter of music teachers Helen and Milton Augustine Williams Jr. Williams and her younger brother Chris Chris Williams (actor) , who is also an actor, grew up in Millwood, a predominantly white middle-class suburban area. Prophetically, her parents put "Here she is: Miss America" on her birth announcement.


Williams studied piano and French horn horn (instrument) growing up, but was most interested in singing and songwriting. She received a scholarship and attended Syracuse University as a Theatre Arts major from 1981 to 1983. She discontinued her education at Syracuse during her sophomore year to fulfill her duties as Miss America, and then subsequently left the university to focus on her entertainment career. Twenty-five years later she graduated from Syracuse by earning her remaining college credits through her life experience with two long running Broadway shows and a Tony Award nomination under her belt. Williams delivered the convocation address on May 10, 2008, with 480 other students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. She stated:Williams competed in the Miss Syracuse (University) beauty pageant when a campus musical she was in was cancelled in 1983. After she won, Williams won Miss New York in 1983, and went to the Miss America national pageant in Atlantic City Atlantic City, New Jersey . She was crowned Miss America 1984 on September 17, 1983, becoming the first African American to win the title. Prior to the final night of competition, Williams won both the Preliminary Talent and Swimsuit Competitions from earlier in the week. Williams' reign as Miss America was not without its challenges and controversies. For the first time in pageant history, a reigning Miss America was the target of death threats and hate mail.

Ten months into her reign as Miss America, she received an anonymous phone call stating that *** photos of her taken by a photographer prior to her pageant days had surfaced. Williams believed the photographs were private and had been destroyed; she claims she never signed a release permitting the photos to be used.

The genesis of the photos dated back to 1982, when she worked as an assistant and makeup artist for Mount Kisco, New York photographer Tom Chiapel. According to Williams, Chiapel advised her that he wanted to try a "new concept of silhouettes with two models." He photographed Williams and another woman in several *** poses, including simulated *** *** *** ***ual practices .

Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, was initially offered the photos, but turned them down. Later Hefner would explain why in People Weekly, "Vanessa Williams is a beautiful woman. There was never any question of our interest in the photos. But they clearly weren't authorized and because they would be the source of considerable embarrassment to her, we decided not to publish them. We were also mindful that she was the first black Miss America." Days later, Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse Penthouse (magazine) , announced that his magazine would publish the photos in their September 1984 issue, and paid Chiapel for the rights to them without Williams' consent. According to the PBS documentary Miss America, Williams' issue of Penthouse would ultimately bring Guccione a $14 million windfall.

After days of media frenzy and sponsors threatening to pull out of the upcoming 1985 pageant, Williams felt pressured by Miss America Pageant officials to resign, and did so in a press conference on July 23, 1984. The title subsequently went to the first runner-up, Suzette Charles, who was also an African American. In early September 1984, Williams filed a $500 million lawsuit against Chiapel and Guccione. According to a Williams family representative, she eventually dropped the suit to avoid further legal battles choosing to move on with her life. Williams is quoted as saying "the best revenge is success."

Although she resigned from fulfilling the duties of a current Miss America, Williams was allowed to keep the bejeweled crown and scholarship money and is officially recognized by the Miss America Organization as "Miss America 1984"; Charles is recognized as "Miss America 1984b."After time out of the spotlight, Williams secured a record deal, and released her debut album, The Right Stuff The Right Stuff (album) in 1988. The first single, "The Right Stuff," found major success on the R&B chart while the second single "He's Got the Look" found similar success on the same chart. The third single "Dreamin'" was a pop hit, becoming Williams' first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at #8, and her first number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album reached gold status in the U.S. and earned her three Grammy Award nominations, including one for Best New Artist.

Her second album The Comfort Zone The Comfort Zone (album) became the biggest success in her music career. The lead single Running Back to You reached top twenty on the Hot 100, and the top position of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart on October 5, 1991. Other singles included "The Comfort Zone The Comfort Zone (song) " (#2 R&B), "Just for Tonight" (#26 Pop), a cover of The Isley Brothers' "Work to Do" (#3 R&B), and the club-only hit "Freedom Dance (Get Free!)." The most successful single from the album, as well as her biggest hit to date, is "Save the Best for Last." It reached #1 in the United States, where it remained for five weeks, as well as #1 in Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada, and was in the top 5 in Japan, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The album sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S. at its time of release and has since been certified triple platinum in the United States by the RIAA Recording Industry Association of America , gold in Canada by the CRIA Canadian Recording Industry Association , and platinum in the United Kingdom by the BPI British Phonographic Industry . The Comfort Zone earned Williams five Grammy Award nominations.

The Sweetest Days, her third album, was released in 1994 to highly-favorable reviews. The album saw Williams branch out and sample other styles of music that included jazz, hip hop hip hop music , rock rock music , and Latin Latin American music -themed recordings such as "Betcha Never" and "You Can't Run," both written and produced by Babyface Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds . Other singles from the album included the adult-contemporary and dance hit "The Way That You Love" and the title track "The Sweetest Days". The album was certified platinum in the U.S. by the RIAA and earned her two Grammy Award nominations.

Other releases include two Christmas albums, Star Bright, released in 1996, and Silver & Gold Silver & Gold (Vanessa Williams album) in 2004; Next Next (Vanessa Williams album) in 1997, and Everlasting Love Everlasting Love (Vanessa Williams album) in 2005, along with a greatest-hits compilation released in 1998, and a host of other compilations released over the years.

Notable chart performances from subsequent albums, motion picture and television soundtracks have included the songs "Love Is Love Is (Vanessa Williams song) ", which was a duet with Brian McKnight, the Golden Globe- and Academy Award-winning "Colors of the Wind", "Where Do We Go from Here? Where Do We Go from Here? (Vanessa Williams song) ", and "Oh How the Years Go By". In total, Williams has sold more than six million records and has received 15 Grammy Award nominations.

In May 2009 she performed two highly successful concerts at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City to sold out crowds.

On June 2, 2009 she released her 8th studio album on Concord Records titled The Real Thing The Real Thing (Vanessa Williams album) . It features songs written and/or produced by Babyface Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds , Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Bebel Gilberto, and Rex Rideout. The album is "a hybrid of samba, bossa nova, some salsa and also some pop and R&B," stated Williams.

Williams confirmed on September 26, 2009 that she will begin recording her ninth studio album in January 2010, and she also stated that it is due for a late summer/early fall, 2010 release. It is going to be a pop and R&B effort similar to the sound of her 2005 album Everlasting Love.
Theatrical roles

Williams parlayed her ascendant music career into a theatrical role when she was cast in the Broadway Broadway theatre production of Kiss of the Spider Woman Kiss of the Spider Woman (musical) in 1994. She was also featured in the Tony Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical -nominated and Drama Desk Award nominated performance as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods in a revival of the show in 2002, which included songs revised for her.

Other notable theatrical roles include her performances in Carmen Jones at the Kennedy Center John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts , the off-Broadway productions of One Man Band and Checkmates, and the New York City Center's Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert, St. Louis Woman.

In 2010, Williams is starring in a new Broadway musical revue along with Barbara Cook, Tom Wopat and Leslie Kritzer entitled, "Sondheim on Sondheim", a look at Stephen Sondheim through his music, film and videotaped interviews. Directed by James Lapine, "Sondheim" will run from March 19 to June 13 at Studio 54 in New York City.

Feature film roles

Williams has appeared in several feature films. Her most prominent role was in the 1997 film Soul Food Soul Food (film) , for which she won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. Williams appeared in the 1991 cult classic film Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. She also co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Eraser Eraser (film) and opposite Chayanne in Dance with Me Dance with Me (film) .

In 2007, Williams returned to the big screen starring in two independent motion pictures. The first being My Brother My Brother (2007 film) , for which she won Best Actress honors at the Harlem International Film Festival, the African-American Women in Cinema Film Festival and at the Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Festival, and the second being And Then Came Love. In 2009, she starred alongside Miley Cyrus in Hannah Montana: The Movie.


Williams' first television appearance was on a 1984 episode of The Love Boat, playing herself. She subsequently made guest appearances on a number of shows, including T.J. Hooker, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saturday Night Live, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, LateLine LateLine (sitcom) , MADtv, Ally McBeal and Boomtown Boomtown (TV series) .

She has had many appearances in television movies and miniseries, including Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer and The Jacksons: An American Dream as Suzanne de Passe. In 1995 Williams starred as Rose Alvares in a television version of Bye Bye Birdie, a Broadway musical from the 1950s. She played the nymph Calypso Calypso (mythology) in the 1997 Hallmark Entertainment RHI Entertainment miniseries The Odyssey The Odyssey (miniseries) , starring Armand Assante. She appeared as Ebony Scrooge the Ebenezer Scrooge character in an update of Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol called A Diva's Christmas Carol. In 2001, Williams starred in the Lifetime LMN (TV network) cable movie about the life of Henriette DeLille, The Courage to Love. In 2003, Williams read the narrative of Tempie Herndon Durham from the WPA slave narratives Slave narrative#WPA slave narratives in the HBO documentary Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives. In early 2006 she starred in the short lived UPN drama South Beach South Beach (2006 TV series) .

In 2007, Williams received considerable media attention for her comic/villainess role as former model/magazine creative director turned editor-in-chief Wilhelmina Slater in the ABC American Broadcasting Company comedy series Ugly Betty. Her performance on the series resulted in a nomination for outstanding supporting actress at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards. She also provides the voice for the main character in the PBS Kids version of Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies. In 2008 & 2009, she was again nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for Ugly Betty.

It has been announced that she has joined the cast of Desperate Housewives for the seventh season. Williams will portray Renée Perry, an old college friend/rival of Lynette Scavo, who will become the new vixen on Wisteria Lane, moving into Edie Britt's old house.

Other media appearances

Williams has appeared in advertisements for RadioS***. She is a spokesmodel for Proactiv Solution, and was the first African-American spokesmodel for L'Oréal cosmetics in the late 1990s. Her other media appearances include endorsing Crest Rejuvenating Effects Toothpaste Crest (toothpaste) , endorsing Disneyland and Universal Studios in a VisitCalifornia advert for the UK and Ireland 2008, and hosting the 6th Annual 2008 TV Land Awards show.

She appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (US game show) in 2000 as a contestant, and once again on 10 August 2009 as a celebrity guest during the show's 10th anniversary prime-time special editions, winning $50,000 for her charity.

Name conflict

Williams is most often referenced and publicly recognized simply as "Vanessa Williams". There is, however, occasional confusion with similarly named actress Vanessa A. Williams, who is just two months younger than she; she came to national notice in 1992, when she appeared in the first season of Melrose Place Melrose Place (1992 TV series) .

It has been reported that Williams first became aware of Vanessa A. in the 1980s when her New York University registrar told her that another, similarly aged student with the same name and from the same state had applied. When Williams appeared as Miss America in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Vanessa A. accidentally received her cheque for the appearance (which she returned). A year later, Williams told "[The other Vanessa Williams] registered the name first, but I made the name famous so I have more claim to it these days".Williams is Roman Catholic. She has been married twice. Her first marriage, to her then-manager Ramon Hervey II, was from 1987 to 1997. They have three children, Jillian born in 1987, Melanie - 1989, and Devin - 1993.

Her second marriage was to former NBA National Basketball Association basketball player Rick Fox. They married in September 1999 and have a daughter, Sasha, born in May 2000. After The National Enquirer published pictures of Fox kissing and hugging another woman in mid-2004, Fox's representative announced that the couple had been "headed toward divorce" for over a year. A few months later in August 2004, Fox filed for divorce. Williams is currently single and resides in Chappaqua, New York. The two still remain friendly and
Fox acted alongside Williams during the second season of Ugly Betty.

During an interview with Barbara Walters which aired on February 24, 2008, Williams not only admitted to using Botox Botulinum toxin but also called it "a miracle drug, no cutting, nothing, and I love it. But I also want to act so I don't do it to freeze my face."*1988: The Right Stuff The Right Stuff (album)
*1991: The Comfort Zone The Comfort Zone (album)
*1994: The Sweetest Days The Sweetest Days (Vanessa Williams album)
*1996: Star Bright Star Bright (Vanessa Williams album)
*1997: Next Next (Vanessa Williams album)
*2004: Silver & Gold Silver & Gold (Vanessa Williams album)
*2005: Everlasting Love Everlasting Love (Vanessa Williams album)
*2009: The Real Thing The Real Thing (Vanessa Williams album)
Motion pictures


Guest appearances

Plays and musicals

Grammy Awards history

Other awards/nominations



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Vanessa Williams


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