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Williams, Vanessa L. 1963–

Vanessa L. Williams 1963

Vocalist, songwriter, actress

At a Glance

Laid Foundations for a Musical Career

A New Breed of Miss America

Hit Rock Bottom

Success Is the Best Revenge

Selected discography

Sources

Many performers must overcome staggering odds to achieve fame. In Vanessa Williamss case, those odds were compounded by scandal and deep embarrassment. A recording artist and film star with two gold records to her credit, Williams was the first African American female to be elected Miss Americaand the first to relinquish her crown after a magazine published nude photographs of her. The road back to respectability has been a long one for Williams, but her talents as a singer and dancerprecisely those that won her the 1983 Miss America titlehave enabled her to establish a successful career.

Ebony correspondent Lynn Norment wrote of Vanessa Williams: The entertainer has not let obstacles defer her dreams so far, and it is doubtful that they will encumber her in the future. Indeed, the biggest obstacles are probably behind Williams. The singer and actress observed in Ebony that being crowned Miss Americaconsidered the honor of a lifetime by much of Middle Americawas for her a stumbling block that almost ruined her chances for work in show business. I think being Miss America was a major detour to what I wanted to do professionally, she said. If [producers] I think you are Miss America, they think you are an airhead a bimbo.

In Williams case, nothing could be further from the truth. Even before the scandal that ended her Miss America reign, she was known as one of the most hardworking and outspoken Miss Americas. She refused to be pegged as a symbol because she was black. She freely voiced her opinions on abortion, government policies, and race relations and presented herself as an articulate woman with well-defined goals for a career as an entertainer. My parents really taught me that there are no limitations, that you can do anything you want, Williams told an Ebony correspondent. I recall my mother telling me that just because you are Black, you are going to have to work 100 percent more than everyone else just to be considered equal. That is unfair, but it is the reality of the situation.

Vanessa Williams was born on March 18, 1963, in the Bronx, New York. Both of her parents had college educations and considerable musical talent. When Williams was just one year old, the family moved to Millwood, New York, an upscale community some 30

At a Glance

Born March 18, 1963, in New York, NY; daughter of Milton (a music teacher) and Helen (a music teacher) Williams; married Ramon Hervey II (a publicist) January 2, 1987, divorced 1997; children: Melanie Lynne, Jillian Kristin, Devin. Education: Attended Syracuse University, 1981-83.

Career: Actress, singer, and songwriter. Elected Miss America, September 14, 1983; relinquished crown, July 23, 1984; film appearances include The Pick Up Artist, 1987, Under the Gun, 1989, Skin Deep, 1989, Another You, 1990, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, 1992, Eraser, 1996, Soul Food, 1997, Shut Up and Dance, 1998, and Hoodlum, 1998; television appearances include The Sex Tapes (film), 1989, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 1992, The Jacksons: An American Dream, 1992, Bye Bye Birdie, 1995, and The Odyssey, 1997; Broadway appearance in The Kiss of the Spider Woman, 1994; released first album, The Right Stuff, 1988.

Selected awards: Named best new female recording artist, National Association for the Advancement Colored People (NAACP), 1988; ten Grammy Award nominations for The Right Stuff (gold), The Comfort Zone (platinum), The Sweetest Day, Next, and the song Colors of the Wind from Disneys Pocahontas; George Arents Pioneer Medal (alumni award), Syracuse University.

Addresses: Agent -William Morris Agency, Inc., 1325 Ave. of the Americas F115, New York, NY 10019. Record company Polygram Records, Worldwide Plaza, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.

miles north of Manhattan. There both parents worked as public school music teachers. According to Elizabeth Kaye in Rolling Stone, Williams was the only black child in her school until she was seven. When she was six, another child called her a nigger. She didnt know what it was. Her mother began to teach her about her heritage, using black-history flashcards that detailed the achievements of [Underground Railroad conductor] Harriet Tubman, [former slave and abolitionist] Frederick Douglass. Soon she had black-pride posters in her bedroom. She decided that she wanted to be the first black Rockette.

Laid Foundations for a Musical Career

By the time Williams turned ten she had immersed herself in music and dance. She took French horn, piano, and violin lessons, studied classical and jazz dance, and appeared in numerous school plays. Kaye noted that when Williams performed, her father was invariably the first to start applauding and the last to stop. Her mother was more circumspect. Nice job, Ness, she would say. Williams entered high school as a highly popular, if somewhat rebellious, student. Her interests continued to be theater and music, and she graduated from high school with a prestigious Presidential Scholarship for Drama. Although she was one of only 12 students accepted into the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh, she decided to stay closer to home and attend Syracuse University.

During the summer after her freshman year at Syracuse, Williams returned to Millwood. She took a job as a receptionist and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel. Chiapel did nude photography with young women, and Williams-who was 19 at the time-became curious about the process. I had worked there for a month and a half when Tom Chiapel mentioned several times that hed like to shoot me in the nude, Williams recalled in People. He assured me that none of the photographs would ever leave the studio. He assured me. Williams did one nude session by herself and another in silhouette lighting with a second female model. Later that summer, on a visit to New York City, she did a third session with a Manhattan photographer. She was so distressed by the nature of that session-which involved leather gear and highly provocative shotsthat she asked for the negatives and thought they had been destroyed.

At summers end Williams returned to Syracuse, where she continued to excel in theater and music. She was appearing in a college musical when she was approached by the director of the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant, one of the steps toward the Miss America contest. Williams was not enthusiastic about entering a beauty pageant, but her parents convinced her to do it. She won Miss Greater Syracuse handily and went on to be crowned Miss New York in 1983.

No black woman had ever been crowned Miss America before. If the pageant favored a certain type, it was usually the blue-eyed, blonde southern woman. Williams pointed out in GQ that the New York Daily News ran a story saying no black woman would ever win the Miss America title. I knew I had the talent and brains, she said. I just didnt feel comfortable in front of all those people in a swimsuit. I never thought Id win. I mean, I was pro-choice and pro-ERA, not Little Miss Seawall at the age of 5. The southern girls said Id never win because I didnt fit the profile. They said it was all in the breeding.

A New Breed of Miss America

On September 14, 1983, just six months after entering her first beauty pageant, Vanessa Williams was crowned Miss America. Her closest competitor, Suzette Charles, was also black. Williams won the pageant by singing a torchy rendition of Happy Days Are Here Again and impressed the judges with her honest and witty answers to their questions. Her parents and her entire hometown rejoiced as she won a $25,000 scholarship and the potential of earning many times that much for personal appearances and product endorsements.

Williams embarked on a hectic tour in keeping with her duties as Miss America. Because she was black, she came under unusual scrutiny from the press and public. As a People correspondent put it, Vanessa Williams was perceived not simply as Miss America but as an emblem of social change-not Miss America at all, in that sense, but Miss New America, embodiment of a kind of collective national redemption. Not surprisingly, Williams rebelled against such symbolism, pointing out that she had never felt discriminated against while growing up and that she did not feel race was an issue in her selection. People are reading too much into it, she remarked in People.

The outspoken but poised Miss America was nearing the end of her reign in July of 1984 when the scandal broke. The provocative photographs Chiapel had taken of her with another woman-the ones she insists she never signed for release-found their way into the pages of Penthouse magazine. After glimpsing the pictures, the shocked Miss America pageant board of directors asked Williams to resign.

Hit Rock Bottom

A weeping Williams consulted with her family, her attorney, and a public relations man-Ramon Hervey II--who was called in to help allay the damage. Within 72 hours of the revelation that the photographs would be published, Williams called a press conference and stepped down with dignity and dry eyes. Her losses were immense. Although pageant officials said she could keep the scholarship money, she was dropped from several major product endorsements worth an estimated $2 million. She was also barred from appearing at the 1984 Miss America pageant and was dropped from a Bob Hope television special. Williams confided in People: I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated like I had been raped. I think this would have to be the worst thing that has happened in my life. But I cant go anyplace but up. Ive hit rock bottom.

Williams had to deny in print that she was a lesbian. She was hounded by obscene telephone calls at home and taunted on the streets. Movie scripts came pouring in for her, but all of them featured excessive nudity and near-pornography. On the other hand, as Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione himself observed, the photographs gained Williams media exposure that eluded many former Miss Americas.

Williams may have earned a spot in the public eye, but she was hardly the toast of Hollywood. Ebonys Norment wrote: The following years were exceptionally trying for the young woman. After the furor over her giving up the Miss America crown subsided, Vanessa continued to pursue her dream of a show business career. She knocked on doors that wouldnt open. She auditioned for parts but never got called back. She met with record company executives, but nobody took her seriously.

Nobody, that is, except Ramon Hervey II, who became Williams manager in 1985 and her husband in 1987, although the couple divorced in 1997. Hervey helped Williams to choose film roles that would not further tarnish her image, such as the 1987 movie The Pick Up Artist. He also paved the way for a recording contract with PolyGrams Wing Records division, a rhythm and blues subsidiary. Theres no way [Vanessa] would have been taken seriously as an actress in Hollywood, Hervey conceded in GQ. We decided it would be better to concentrate on her musical talents, which we could control. We made a conscious effort to build a base in the black community with a rhythm-and-blues album. If Vanessa didnt succeed in black music first, then shed never succeed. We had to convince the black media to give Vanessa a chance to become a whole person again.

Williams first album, The Right Stuff, was released in 1988. The album went gold in sales and placed three singles in the Top Ten on the rhythm and blues music charts. Williams helped to make the work a hit by appearing in high-energy music videos and by touring the United States and Europe for live shows. Her efforts won her the best new female recording artist award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1988. She was also nominated for three Grammy awards in the rhythm and blues category. GQ contributor Pat Jordan declared: For the first time in years, the name Vanessa Williams became synonymous not with scandal but with success and a kind of relentless courage. Her life was no longer defined solely by a single aberration from her past.

Success Is the Best Revenge

Williams followed her hit debut album with another well-received work, 1991s The Comfort Zone, which eventually went multi-platinum. The LP yielded her first Number One single, Save the Best for Last, a song co-written by Williams and Wendy Waldman. Save the Best for Last stayed at Number One on the pop, rhythm and blues, and adult contemporary charts for five weeks, even as Michael Jacksons Remember the Time failed to make a showing. Superstar recording artist Luther Vandross told an Entertainment Weekly correspondent: I couldnt be more thrilled about whats happening for [Vanessa] right now. The way she looks, the way she sings, that inexplicable something called charisma all work in her favor.

Williams has also been offered parts in such respectable movies as Another You, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Stompin at the Savoy, Under the Gun, Skin Deep, and The Jacksons: An American Dream. In between recording sessions, tours, and film work, she and Hervey managed to have three children, Melanie, Jillian, and Devin. Asked in Ebony how she could find time for her various projects and the demands of child rearing, she explained: Black women have been doing this forever. It is really not a question of how you can do it. It needs to be done, and you do it. There are so many single family households, and Black women have to be strong to keep their families together. Being a Black woman, I think that is one of the roles, the strengths you just acquire. I think we are a strong people.

Williams told a People correspondent that she knows some Americans will always remember the Penthouse pictures, and she knows she will have to explain them to her children some day. The incident was a part of my life that was pretty devastating, she confessed. But in the context of my whole life, I got over it. The versatile performer added in Ebony, Im not dwelling on [the past] now. Im just moving on, for there is nothing I can do to change that, so I just have to deal with it and move on. If situations arose where I could get revenge, I absolutely would. But at this point, success is the best revenge.

And it would appear that her revenge is going to continue. Recently, Williams has accepted roles in the TV movie The Odyssey, 1997, as well as the films Eraser, 1996, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Soul Food, 1997, Hoodlum, with Laurence Fishburne, 1997, and Shut Up & Dance, 1998. She also, in 1994, acted in the Broadway musical, The Kiss of the Spider Woman. She has made several TV appearances including The Redd Foxx Show, Live! Dick Clark Presents, Live from the House of Blues, VH-1s The Soul of VH-1, which Williams hosted each week in 1991, Bye Bye Birdie in 1995 opposite Seinfelds Jason Alexander, along with her many appearances in specials and award shows.

In her spare time, that not devoted to her acting career or her children, Williams has managed to put out two more albums, The Sweetest Days, which went platinum, Next, and a Christmas album, Star Bright, as well as singing Colors of the Wind on Disneys Pocahontas soundtrack. These, along with her previous works, have raised her to a total of ten Grammy Award nominations. It would appear that Vanessa Williams is here to stay.

Selected discography

The Right Stuff, Wing, 1988.

The Comfort Zone, Wing, 1991.

The Sweetest Days, Polygram, 1994.

Star Bright (Christmas album), Polygram, 1996.

Next, Polygram, 1997.

Selected filmography

The Pick Up Artist, 1987.

Skin Deep, 1989.

Another You, 1990.

Bye Bye Birdie, 1995.

Eraser, 1996.

The Odyssey, 1997.

Soul Food, 1997.

Shut Up & Dance, 1998.

Hoodlum, 1998.

Sources

Books

African American Biographies, pp. 454-455.

Contemporary Musicians, Volume 10, pp. 258-261.

Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Culture, pp. 46-47.

Periodicals

Ebony, April 1987; December 1988; April 1990; October 1997.

Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1992.

GQ, June 1990.

Jet, September 16, 1991; February 3, 1992.

Newsweek, August 6, 1984.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI), June 14, 1992.

People, October 3, 1983; December 26, 1983-January 2, 1984; August 6, 1984; September 10, 1984; December 24-31, 1984; January 30, 1989.

Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; April 16, 1992; April 30, 1992; May 14, 1992.

Time, August 6, 1984.

Other

Additional information for this profile was obtained from the IAC Insite website, specifically People Weekly, October 20, 1997 p. 95, Ebony, October 1997 p. 168, Jet, September 29, 1997 p. 58, Jet, September 1, 1997 p. 32, Entertainment Weekly, May 29, 1992 p. 16. http://iac-insite.com/cgLappl.cgiK8=ON&ViewItems=View+Checked+Items

A. J. Johnson and Catherine V. Donaldson

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Williams, Vanessa

Vanessa Williams

Singer

Many performers overcome staggering odds to achieve fame; in the case of Vanessa Williams, success seemed a long shot after a devastating and very public scandal. A recording artist with two gold records to her credit, Williams was the first black woman to be crowned Miss America—and the first to relinquish her crown after a magazine published nude photographs of her. The road back to respectability was a long one for Williams, but the remarkable grace and vocal gifts that won her the 1983 Miss America title enabled her to establish a thriving career.

As Ebony's Lynn Norment described Williams, "The entertainer has not let obstacles defer her dreams so far, and it is doubtful that they will encumber her in the future." The singer observed that being crowned Miss America, considered the honor of a lifetime by many, was for her a stumbling block that almost ruined her chances for work in show business. "I think being Miss America was a major detour to what I wanted to do professionally," she said. "If [producers] think you are Miss America, they think you are an airhead … a bimbo."

As far as Williams is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. Even before the scandal that ended her reign, she was known as one of the most hardworking and outspoken women to wear the Miss America crown. She refused to be pegged as a symbol because she was black. She also freely voiced her opinions on abortion, government policies, and race relations, and presented herself as an articulate woman with well-defined goals for a career as an entertainer. "My parents really taught me that there are no limitations, that you can do anything you want," Williams told Ebony. "I recall my mother telling me that just because you are black, you are going to have to work 100 percent more than everyone else just to be considered equal. That is unfair, but it is the reality of the situation."

Raised in Musical Household

Vanessa Williams was born on March 18, 1963, in the Bronx, New York. Both of her parents had college educations and considerable musical talent. When Williams was just a year old, the family moved to Millwood, New York, an upscale community some 30 miles north of Manhattan, where both parents worked as public school music teachers. According to Elizabeth Kaye in Rolling Stone, Williams "was the only black child in her school until she was seven. When she was six, another child called her a 'nigger.' She didn't know what it was. Her mother began to teach her about her heritage, using black-history flashcards that detailed the achievements of [Underground Railroad hero] Harriet Tubman, and [former slave and abolitionist] Frederick Douglass. Soon she had black-pride posters in her bedroom. She decided that she wanted to be the first black Rockette."

By the time Williams turned ten she had immersed herself in music and dance. She took French horn, piano, and violin lessons, studied classical and jazz dance, and appeared in numerous school plays. Kaye noted that when Williams performed, "her father was invariably the first to start applauding and the last to stop. Her mother was more circumspect. 'Nice job, 'Ness,' she would say." Williams entered high school as a highly popular, if somewhat rebellious, student. Her interests continued in theater and music, and she graduated from high school with a prestigious Presidential Scholarship for Drama. Although she was one of only 12 students accepted into the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh, she decided to stay closer to home and attend Syracuse University.

During the summer after her freshman year at Syracuse, Williams returned to Millwood, taking a job as a receptionist and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel. Chiapel photographed subjects in the nude, and Williams—19 at the time—was curious. "I had worked there for a month and a half when Tom Chiapel mentioned several times that he'd like to shoot me in the nude," Williams recalled in People. "He assured me that none of the photographs would ever leave the studio. He assured me." Williams did one nude session by herself and another in silhouette lighting with a second female model. Later that summer, on a visit to New York City, she did a third session with a Manhattan photographer. However, she was so distressed by the nature of that session, which involved leather gear and highly provocative poses, that she asked for the negatives and thought they had been destroyed.

At summer's end Williams returned to Syracuse, where she continued to excel in theater and music. She was appearing in a college musical when the director of the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant, an early step toward the Miss America contest, approached her. Williams was not enthusiastic about entering a beauty pageant, but her parents convinced her to do it. She handily became Miss Greater Syracuse and went on to be crowned Miss New York in 1983.

No black woman had ever been crowned Miss America. If the pageant favored a certain type, it was usually the blue-eyed, blonde southern woman. Williams remembered in GQ that the New York Daily News had run a story insisting that no black woman would ever win the Miss America title. "I knew I had the talent and brains," she said. "I just didn't feel comfortable in front of all those people in a swimsuit. I never thought I'd win. I mean, I was pro-choice and pro-ERA, not 'Little Miss Seawall' at the age of 5. The southern girls said I'd never win because I didn't fit the profile. They said it was all in the breeding."

For the Record …

Born on March 18, 1963, in New York, NY; daughter of Milton and Helen Williams (music teachers); married Ramon Hervey II (head of a management firm that included Williams as a client), 1987 (divorced, 1997); married Rick Fox, 1999 (divorced, 2004); children: Melanie, Jillian Kristin, Devin (first marriage); Sasha Gabriella (second marriage). Education: Syracuse University, degree in musical theater, c. 1984.

Worked for photographer as receptionist and makeup artist, Millwood, NY, c. 1982; crowned Miss America, September 14, 1983; relinquished crown, July 23, 1984; worked as a backup singer; signed with Wing Records and released first album, The Right Stuff, 1988; film appearances include The Pick Up Artist, 1987, Another You, 1990, and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, 1992; became host of weekly cable television program The Soul of VH-1, 1992; appeared in Boomtown, 2003; appeared in Johnson Family Vacation, 2004; released Silver and Gold, 2004; released Everlasting Love, 2005.

Awards: NAACP Image Award, Best New Female Artist, 1988; Image Award, Outstanding Actress in a Television Miniseries, for "Stompin' at the Savoy," 1993; Image Award, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture, for Soul Food, 1998.

Addresses: Record company—Wing Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Agent—John Marx, William Morris Agency, Inc., 1350 Sixth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Management—Hervey & Co., Inc., 9034 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 107, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Crowned Miss America

On September 14, 1983, just six months after entering her first beauty pageant, Vanessa Williams was named Miss America. Her closest competitor, Suzette Charles, was also black. Williams won with a torchy rendition of the standard "Happy Days Are Here Again," and impressed the judges with her honest and witty answers to their questions. Her parents and her entire home-town rejoiced as she won a $25,000 scholarship and the potential of earning much more for personal appearances and product endorsements.

Williams embarked on a hectic tour in keeping with her duties as Miss America. Because she was black, she came under unusual scrutiny from the press and public. As a People correspondent put it, "Vanessa Williams was perceived not simply as Miss America but as an emblem of social change—not Miss America at all, in that sense, but Miss New America, embodiment of a kind of collective national redemption." But Williams chafed at this characterization, saying she had never felt discriminated against while growing up and that she did not feel race was an issue in her selection. "People are reading too much into it," she concluded.

The frank but poised Miss America was nearing the end of her reign in July of 1984 when scandal broke: The photographs Chiapel had taken of her with another woman—the ones she insists she never signed for release—found their way into the pages of the men's magazine Penthouse. After glimpsing the pictures, the shocked Miss America pageant board of directors asked Williams to resign.

A teary Williams huddled with her family, her attorney, and a public relations consultant, Ramon Hervey II, who was called in to help minimize the damage. Within 72 hours of the revelation, Williams called a press conference and stepped down with dignity and dry eyes. Her losses were immense: Although pageant officials said she could keep the scholarship money, she was dropped from several major product endorsements worth an estimated $2 million. She was also barred from appearing at the 1984 Miss America pageant and was dropped from a Bob Hope television special. Williams confided in People: "I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated like I had been raped.… I think this would have to be the worst thing that has happened in my life. But I can't go anyplace but up. I've hit rock bottom."

Scandal Fallout

Williams was forced to deny in print that she was a lesbian. She was hounded by obscene telephone calls at home and taunted on the streets. Movie scripts came pouring in, but all featured excessive nudity and near-pornography. Still, as Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione had suggested, the photographs gained Williams the media exposure that had eluded many former Miss Americas.

Though she may have earned a spot in the public eye, Williams was hardly the toast of Hollywood. Ebony's Norment reported: "The following years were exceptionally trying for the young woman. After the furor over her giving up the Miss America crown subsided, Vanessa continued to pursue her dream of a show business career. She knocked on doors that wouldn't open. She auditioned for parts but never got called back. She met with record company executives, but nobody took her seriously."

Nobody, that is, except Ramon Hervey, who became Williams's manager in 1985 and her husband in 1987. He helped Williams choose film roles that would not further tarnish her image, such as the 1987 movie The Pick Up Artist. He also paved the way for a recording contract with PolyGram's Wing Records, a rhythm and blues subsidiary. (In fact, Williams was the first artist signed to the label.) "There's no way [Vanessa] would have been taken seriously as an actress in Hollywood," Hervey conceded in GQ. "We decided it would be better to concentrate on her musical talents, which we could control. We made a conscious effort to build a base in the black community with a rhythm-and-blues album. If Vanessa didn't succeed in black music first, then she'd never succeed. We had to convince the black media to give Vanessa a chance to become a whole person again."

An early music milestone came when Williams provided backup vocals to funk premier George Clinton's "Do Fries Go With That Shake," which landed in the top ten. Williams's own album The Right Stuff was released in 1988. The record went gold, selling 500,000 units, and placed three singles in the top ten of the rhythm and blues charts. Williams supported the effort by appearing in high-energy music videos and touring the United States and Europe. Her diligence resulted in an Image Award for Best New Female Artist from the NAACP in 1988. She was also nominated for three Grammy Awards—one for Best New Artist and two for Best R&B Vocal Performance-Female—for "The Right Stuff" in 1988 and "Dreamin'" in 1989. GQ contributor Pat Jordan declared, "For the first time in years, the name 'Vanessa Williams' became synonymous not with scandal but with success and a kind of relentless courage. Her life was no longer defined solely by a single aberration from her past."

Williams followed her hit debut with another well-received release, 1991's The Comfort Zone. The disc yielded her first number one single, "Save the Best for Last," written by Wendy Waldman, Jon Lind, and Phil Galdston. The radio-friendly song, aided by heavy video rotation, stayed at number one on the pop, rhythm and blues, and adult contemporary charts for five weeks and was nominated for three Grammy Awards: Record of the Year, Best Female Vocal Solo-Pop, and Best Female Vocal Solo-R&B. Superstar recording artist Luther Vandross told an Entertainment Weekly correspondent: "I couldn't be more thrilled about what's happening for [Vanessa] right now. The way she looks, the way she sings, that inexplicable something called charisma all work in her favor." But Williams remarked in People, "I never for one second have felt that I've arrived. I will always have something to prove."

Williams was also offered roles in the mainstream, if not blockbuster, films Another You and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, and made appearances in the television productions Stompin' at the Savoy and The Jacksons: An American Dream. In 1992 she became hostess of VH-1's The Soul of VH-1, a weekly video presentation featuring rhythm and blues. In the midst of recording sessions, tours, and film work, she and Hervey had three children. Asked in Ebony how she could find time for her various projects and the demands of child rearing, she explained: "Black women have been doing this forever. It is really not a question of how you can do it. It needs to be done, and you do it. … There are so many single family households, and black women have to be strong to keep their families together. Being a black woman, I think that is one of the roles, the strengths you just acquire. I think we are a strong people."

Williams released new albums yearly from1995 through 1997. In 1997 she and Hervey divorced. She remarried in 1999, to basketball star Rick Fox; the couple's first child, Sasha Gabriella, was born in 2000. Their marriage did not last, however; Fox filed for divorce on August 10, 2004.

In 2003 Williams signed to appear in ten episodes of NBC's police drama Boomtown. She told a reporter for the Grand Rapids Press that although it would be difficult for her to fly back and forth from her children in New York to the studio in Los Angeles, "It's a time in my life when I think that I have the flexibility" to do so.

The year 2004 was a busy year for Williams, who appeared in the film Johnson Family Vacation. In the film she played the estranged wife of an insurance sales representative who joins him and their three children for a family reunion and trip. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Eleanor Ringel Gillespie wrote, "The underappreciated and gorgeous Williams makes a fine foil, but she's too young to be relegated to disgruntled-wife roles." In 2004 Williams also released a Christmas album, Silver and Gold.

In 2005 Williams released an album, Everlasting Love, on Lava Records, which featured reinterpretations of modern romantic classics. In conjunction with the release she gave a performance at Carnegie Hall. In the Palm Beach Post Leslie Gray Streeter called the album "inspired," and noted, "I was stunned at how powerful and deep her voice is. She shows off those pipes through the album most impressively." In the Orlando Sentinel Jim Abbot commented, "This stuff is primo romantic mood music that even a guy can understand."

Williams told People that she knows some Americans will always remember the Penthouse pictures, and she knows she will have to explain them to her children some day. "The incident was a part of my life that was pretty devastating," she confessed. "But in the context of my whole life, I got over it." The versatile performer added in Ebony, "I'm not dwelling on [the past] now. I'm just moving on, for there is nothing I can do to change that, so I just have to deal with it and move on. … If situations arose where I could get revenge, I absolutely would. But at this point, success is the best revenge."

Selected discography

The Right Stuff, Wing, 1988.

The Comfort Zone, Wing, 1991.

(Contributor) A Very Special Christmas, A&M, 1992.

(Contributor, with Brian McKnight) "Love Is," Beverly Hills 90210: The Soundtrack, Giant, 1993.

Sweetest Days, Wing, 1995.

Star Bright, Mercury, 1996.

Next, Mercury, 1997.

Silver and Gold, Main Street Music, 2004.

Everlasting Love, Lava Records, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 7, 2004, p. E1.

Ebony, April 1987; December 1988; April 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1992; December 25, 1992.

Grand Rapids Press, July 30, 2003, p. B7.

GQ, June 1990.

Jet, September 16, 1991; February 3, 1992.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, May 8, 2004, p. NA.

Newsweek, August 6, 1984.

New York Post, January 30, 2005, p. 82.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI), June 14, 1992.

Orlando Sentinel, February 3, 2005, p. NA.

Palm Beach Post, December 12, 2004, p. 1J; February 18, 2005, p. 24.

People, October 3, 1983; December 26, 1983; August 6, 1984; September 10, 1984; December 24, 1984; January 30, 1989; May 3, 1993.

Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; April 16, 1992; April 30, 1992; May 14, 1992.

San Francisco Chronicle, April 7, 2004, p. E2.

Time, August 6, 1984.

Online

Billboard.com,http://www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_5/index.jsp (January 21, 2004).

Additional information for this profile was provided by Wing Records, 1992.

KellyWinters

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Williams, Vanessa

Vanessa Williams

Singer, actress

Raised in Musical Household

Crowned Miss America

Scandal Fallout

Selected discography

Sources

Many performers overcome staggering odds to achieve fame; in the case of Vanessa Williams, success seemed a particular long shot after a devastating and very public scandal. A recording artist with two gold records to her credit, Williams was the first black woman to be crowned Miss Americaand the first to relinquish her crown after a magazine published nude photographs of her. The road back to respectability has been a long one for Williams, but her remarkable grace and vocal giftsprecisely what won her the 1983 Miss America titlehave enabled her to establish a thriving career.

As Ebonys Lynn Norment attested of Williams, The entertainer has not let obstacles defer her dreams so far, and it is doubtful that they will encumber her in the future. Truly, the greatest hurdles are most likely behind Williams. The singer observed that being crowned Miss Americaconsidered the honor of a lifetime by much of Middle Americawas for her a stumbling block that almost ruined her chances for work in show business. I think being Miss America was a major detour to what I wanted to do professionally, she said. If [producers] think you are Miss America, they think you are an airhead ... a bimbo.

As far as Williams is concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. Even before the scandal that ended her reign, she was known as one of the most hardworking and outspoken Miss Americas. She refused to be pegged as a symbol because she was black. And she freely voiced her opinions on abortion, government policies, and race relations and presented herself as an articulate woman with well-defined goals for a career as an entertainer. My parents really taught me that there are no limitations, that you can do anything you want, Williams told Ebony. I recall my mother telling me that just because you are black, you are going to have to work 100 percent more than everyone else just to be considered equal. That is unfair, but it is the reality of the situation.

Raised in Musical Household

Vanessa Williams was born on March 18, 1963, in the Bronx, New York. Both of her parents had college educations and considerable musical talent. When Williams was just a year old, the family moved to Millwood, New York, an upscale community some 30 miles north of Manhattan. There both parents worked as public school music teachers. According to Elizabeth Kaye in Rolling Stone, Williams was the only black child in her school until she was seven. When she was six, another child called her a nigger. She didnt know what it was. Her mother began to teach her about her

For the Record

Born March 18, 1963, in New York, NY; daughter of Milton and Helen (music teachers) Williams; married Ramon Hervey II (head of a management firm that includes Williams as a client), 1987; children: Melanie Lynne, Julian Kristin, Devin Christian. Education: Received degree in musical theater from Syracuse University, c. 1984.

Worked for photographer as receptionist and makeup artist, Millwood, NY, c. 1982; crowned Miss America, September 14, 1983; relinquished crown, July 23, 1984; worked as a backup singer; signed with Wing Records and released first album, The Right Stuff, 1988. Film appearances include The Pick Up Artist, 1987, Another You, 1990, and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, 1992. Became host of weekly cable television program The Soul of VH-1, 1992.

Selected awards: NAACP Image Award for best new artist-female, 1988; Grammy Award nominations for best new artist, 1988, best R&B vocal performance-female, 1988, for The Right Stuff, and 1989, for Dreamin, and for record of the year, female vocal solo-pop, and female vocal solo-R&B, 1992, for Saving the Best for Last; two gold records.

Addresses: Agent John Marx, William Morris Agency, Inc., 1350 Sixth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Management Hervey & Co., Inc., 9034 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 107, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Record companyWing Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

heritage, using black-history flashcards that detailed the achievements of [Underground Railroad hero] Harriet Tubman, [former slave and abolitionist] Frederick Douglass. Soon she had black-pride posters in her bedroom. She decided that she wanted to be the first black Rockette.

By the time Williams turned ten she had immersed herself in music and dance. She took French horn, piano, and violin lessons, studied classical and jazz dance, and appeared in numerous school plays. Kaye noted that when Williams performed, her father was invariably the first to start applauding and the last to stop. Her mother was more circumspect. Nice job, Ness, she would say. Williams entered high school as a highly popular, if somewhat rebellious, student. Her interests continued in theater and music, and she graduated from high school with a prestigious Presidential Scholarship for Drama. Although she was one of only 12 students accepted into the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh, she decided to stay closer to home and attend Syracuse University.

During the summer after her freshman year at Syracuse, Williams returned to Millwood. She took a job as a receptionist and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel. Chiapel photographed nude subjects, and Williams19 at the timebecame curious about the process. I had worked there for a month and a half when Tom Chiapel mentioned several times that hed like to shoot me in the nude, Williams recalled in People. He assured me that none of the photographs would ever leave the studio. He assured me. Williams did one nude session by herself and another in silhouette lighting with a second female model. Later that summer, on a visit to New York City, she did a third session with a Manhattan photographer. However, she was so distressed by the nature of that sessionwhich involved leather gear and highly provocative shots that she asked for the negatives and thought they had been destroyed.

At summers end Williams returned to Syracuse, where she continued to excel in theater and music. She was appearing in a college musical when she was approached by the director of the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant, an early step toward the Miss America contest. Williams was not enthusiastic about entering a beauty pageant, but her parents convinced her to do it. She handily became Miss Greater Syracuse and went on to be crowned Miss New York in 1983.

No black woman had ever been crowned Miss America. If the pageant favored a certain type, it was usually the blue-eyed, blonde southern woman. Williams remembered in Guthat the New York Daily Newshaä run a story insisting that no black woman would ever win the Miss America title. I knew I had the talent and brains, she said. I just didnt feel comfortable in front of all those people in a swimsuit. I never thought Id win. I mean, I was pro-choice and pro-ERA, not Little Miss Seawall at the age of 5. The southern girls said Id never win because I didnt fit the profile. They said it was all in the breeding.

Crowned Miss America

On September 14, 1983, just six months after entering her first beauty pageant, Vanessa Williams was named Miss America. Her closest competitor, Suzette Charles, was also black. Williams won with a torchy rendition of the standard Happy Days Are Here Again and impressed the judges with her honest and witty answers to their questions. Her parents and her entire hometown rejoiced as she won a $25,000 scholarship and the potential of earning many times that much for personal appearances and product endorsements.

Williams embarked on a hectic tour in keeping with her duties as Miss America. Because she was black, she came under unusual scrutiny from the press and public. As a People correspondent put it, Vanessa Williams was perceived not simply as Miss America but as an emblem of social changenot Miss America at all, in that sense, but Miss New America, embodiment of a kind of collective national redemption. But Williams chafed at this characterization, saying she had never felt discriminated against while growing up and that she did not feel race was an issue in her selection. People are reading too much into it, she concluded.

The frank but poised Miss America was nearing the end of her reign in July of 1984 when scandal broke: The photographs Chiapel had taken of her with another womanthe ones she insists she never signed for releasefound their way into the pages of the mens magazine Penthouse. After glimpsing the pictures, the shocked Miss America pageant board of directors asked Williams to resign.

A teary Williams huddled with her family, her attorney, and a public relations consultant, Ramon Hervey II, who was called in to help allay the damage. Within 72 hours of the revelation that the photographs would indeed be circulated on a mass scale, Williams called a press conference and stepped down with dignity and dry eyes. Her losses were immense: Although pageant officials said she could keep the scholarship money, she was dropped from several major product endorsements worth an estimated $2 million. She was also barred from appearing at the 1984 Miss America pageant and was dropped from a Bob Hope television special. Williams confided in People: I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated like I had been raped... . I think this would have to be the worst thing that has happened in my life. But I cant go anyplace but up. Ive hit rock bottom.

Scandal Fallout

Williams was forced to deny in print that she was a lesbian. She was hounded by obscene telephone calls at home and taunted on the streets. Movie scripts came pouring in, but all featured excessive nudity and near pornography. Still, as Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione had suggested, the photographs gained Williams the media exposure that had eluded many former Miss Americas.

Nonetheless, though she may have earned a spot in the public eye, Williams was hardly the toast of Hollywood. Ebonys Norment reported: The following years were exceptionally trying for the young woman. After the furor over her giving up the Miss America crown subsided, Vanessa continued to pursue her dream of a show business career. She knocked on doors that wouldnt open. She auditioned for parts but never got called back. She met with record company executives, but nobody took her seriously.

Nobody, that is, except Hervey, who became Williamss manager in 1985 and her husband in 1987. He helped Williams choose film roles that would not further tarnish her image, such as the 1987 movie The Pick Up Artist He also paved the way for a recording contract with PolyGrams Wing Records, a rhythm and blues subsidiary. (In fact, Williams was the first artist signed to the label). Theres no way [Vanessa] would have been taken seriously as an actress in Hollywood, Hervey conceded in GQ. We decided it would be better to concentrate on her musical talents, which we could control. We made a conscious effort to build a base in the black community with a rhythm-and-blues album. If Vanessa didnt succeed in black music first, then shed never succeed. We had to convince the black media to give Vanessa a chance to become a whole person again.

An early music milestone came when Williams provided backup vocals to funk premier George Clintons Do Fries Go With That Shake, which landed in the Top Ten. Williamss own album, The Right Stuff, was released in 1988. The record went goldselling 500,000 unitsand placed three singles in the Top Ten of the rhythm and blues charts. Williams supported the effort by appearing in high-energy music videos and touring the United States and Europe. Her diligence resulted in her receiving an Image Award for best new artist female from the NAACP in 1988. She was also nominated for three Grammy awardsone for best new artist and two for best R&B vocal performance-female, for The Right Stuff, in 1988, and Dreamin, in 1989. GQ contributor Pat Jordan declared, For the first time in years, the name Vanessa Williams became synonymous not with scandal but with success and a kind of relentless courage. Her life was no longer defined solely by a single aberration from her past.

Williams followed her hit debut with another well-received release, 1991s The Comfort Zone. The disc yielded her first Number One single, Save the Best for Last, written by Wendy Waldman, Jon Lind, and Phil Galdston. The radio-friendly song, aided by heavy video rotation, stayed at Number One on the pop, rhythm and blues, and adult contemporary charts for five weeks and was nominated for three Grammy Awardsrecord of the year, best female vocal solopop, and best female vocal solo-R&B. Superstar recording artist Luther Vandross told an Entertainment Weekly correspondent: I couldnt be more thrilled about whats happening for [Vanessa] right now. The way she looks, the way she sings, that inexplicable something called charisma all work in her favor. But, for her part, Williams remarked in People, I never for one second have felt that Ive arrived. I will always have something to prove.

Williams was also offered roles in the mainstream, if not blockbuster, films Another You and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and was noted for her appearances in the television productions Stompin at the Savoy and The Jacksons: An American Dream. In 1992 she became hostess of VH-1s The Soul of VH-1, a weekly video presentation featuring rhythm and blues. In the midst of recording sessions, tours, and film work, she and Hervey managed to have three children. Asked in Ebony how she could find time for her various projects and the demands of child rearing, she explained: Black women have been doing this forever. It is really not a question of how you can do it. It needs to be done, and you do it. ... There are so many single family households, and black women have to be strong to keep their families together. Being a black woman, I think that is one of the roles, the strengths you just acquire. I think we are a strong people.

Williams told People that she knows some Americans will always remember the Penthouse pictures, and she knows she will have to explain them to her children some day. The incident was a part of my life that was pretty devastating, she confessed. But in the context of my whole life, I got over it. The versatile performer added in Ebony, Im not dwelling on [the past] now. Im just moving on, for there is nothing I can do to change that, so I just have to deal with it and move on.... If situations arose where I could get revenge, I absolutely would. But at this point, success is the best revenge.

Selected discography

The Right Stuff, Wing, 1988.

The Comfort Zone, Wing, 1991.

(Contributor) A Very Special Christmas, A&M, 1992.

(Contributor; with Brian McKnight) Love Is, Beverly Hills 90210: The Soundtrack, Giant, 1993.

Sources

Ebony, April 1987; December 1988; April 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1992; December 25, 1992.

GQ, June 1990.

Jet, September 16, 1991; February 3, 1992.

Newsweek, August 6, 1984.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, Ml), June 14, 1992.

People, October 3, 1983; December 26, 1983; August 6, 1984; September 10, 1984; December 24, 1984; January 30, 1989; May 3, 1993.

Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; April 16, 1992; April 30, 1992; May 14, 1992.

Time, August 6, 1984.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Wing Records, 1992.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Williams, Vanessa 1963–

Vanessa Williams 1963

Singer, songwriter, actress

At a Glance

Laid Foundations for a Musical Career

A New Breed of Miss America

Hit Rock Bottom

Success Is the Best Revenge

Selected discography

Sources

Many performers must overcome staggering odds to achieve fame. In Vanessa Williamss case, those odds were compounded by scandal and deep embarrassment. A recording artist and film star with two gold records to her credit, Williams was the first black woman to be elected Miss America and the first to relinquish her crown after a magazine published nude photographs of her. The road back to respectability has been a long one for Williams, but her talents as a singer and dancerprecisely those that won her the 1983 Miss America titlehave enabled her to establish a successful career.

Ebony correspondent Lynn Norment wrote of Vanessa Williams: The entertainer has not let obstacles defer her dreams so far, and it is doubtful that they will encumber her in the future. Indeed, the biggest obstacles are probably behind Williams. The singer and actress observed in Ebony that being crowned Miss Americaconsidered the honor of a lifetime by much of Middle Americawas for her a stumbling block that almost ruined her chances for work in show business. I think being Miss America was a major detour to what I wanted to do professionally, she said. If [producers] think you are Miss America, they think you are an airhead... a bimbo.

In Williamss case, nothing could be further from the truth. Even before the scandal that ended her Miss America reign, she was known as one of the most hardworking and outspoken Miss Americas. She refused to be pegged as a symbol because she was black. She freely voiced her opinions on abortion, government policies, and race relations and presented herself as an articulate woman with well-defined goals for a career as an entertainer. My parents really taught me that there are no limitations, that you can do anything you want, Williams told an Ebony correspondent. I recall my mother telling me that just because you are Black, you are going to have to work 100 percent more than everyone else just to be considered equal. That is unfair, but it is the reality of the situation.

Vanessa Williams was born on March 18, 1963, in the Bronx, New York. Both of her parents had college educations and considerable musical talent. When Williams was just one year old, the family moved to Millwood, New York, an upscale community some 30 miles north of Manhattan. There both parents worked as public school music teachers. According to Elizabeth Kaye in Rolling Stone, Williams was the only black child in her school until she was

At a Glance

Born March 18,1963, in New York, NY; daughter of Milton (a music teacher) and Helen (a music teacher) Williams; married Ramon Hervey II (a publicist) January 2, 1987; children: Melanie Lynne, Jillian Kristin. Education: Attended Syracuse University, 1981-83.

Actress, singer, and songwriter. Crowned Miss America, September 14,1983; relinquished crown, July 23,1984; film appearances include The Pick Up Artist, 1987, Another You, 1990, and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, 1992; television appearances include The Sex Tapes (film), 1989, and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, 1992; released first album, The Right Stuff, 1988.

Selected awards: Named best new female recording artist, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1988; three Grammy Award nominations for The Right Stuff; Grammy Award nominations for record of the year, female vocal solopop, and female vocal soloR & B, all 1993; two gold records.

Addresses: Agent John Marx, William Morris Agency, Inc., 1350 Sixth Ave., New York, NY 10019. ManagerRamon Hervey II, Hervey & Co., Inc., 9034 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 107, Los Angeles, CA 90069. Record company Wing Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.

seven. When she was six, another child called her a nigger. She didnt know what it was. Her mother began to teach her about her heritage, using black-history flashcards that detailed the achievements of [Underground Railroad conductor] Harriet Tubman, [former slave and abolitionist] Frederick Douglass. Soon she had black-pride posters in her bedroom. She decided that she wanted to be the first black Rockette.

Laid Foundations for a Musical Career

By the time Williams turned ten she had immersed herself in music and dance. She took French horn, piano, and violin lessons, studied classical and jazz dance, and appeared in numerous school plays. Kaye noted that when Williams performed, her father was invariably the first to start applauding and the last to stop. Her mother was more circumspect. Nice job, Ness, she would say. Williams entered high school as a highly popular, if somewhat rebellious, student. Her interests continued to be theater and music, and she graduated from high school with a prestigious Presidential Scholarship for Drama. Although she was one of only 12 students accepted into the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh, she decided to stay closer to home and attend Syracuse University.

During the summer after her freshman year at Syracuse, Williams returned to Millwood. She took a job as a receptionist and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel. Chiapel did nude photography of young women, and Williamswho was 19 at the timebecame curious about the process. I had worked there for a month and a half when Tom Chiapel mentioned several times that hed like to shoot me in the nude, Williams recalled in People. He assured me that none of the photographs would ever leave the studio. He assured me. Williams did one nude session by herself and another in silhouette lighting with a second female model. Later that summer, on a visit to New York City, she did a third session with a Manhattan photographer. She was so distressed by the nature of that sessionwhich involved leather gear and highly provocative shotsthat she asked for the negatives and thought they had been destroyed.

At summers end Williams returned to Syracuse, where she continued to excel in theater and music. She was appearing in a college musical when she was approached by the director of the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant, one of the steps toward the Miss America contest. Williams was not enthusiastic about entering a beauty pageant, but her parents convinced her to do it. She won Miss Greater Syracuse handily and went on to be crowned Miss New York in 1983.

No black woman had ever been crowned Miss America before. If the pageant favored a certain type, it was usually the blue-eyed, blonde southern woman. Williams pointed out in GQ that the New York Daily News ran a story saying no black woman would ever win the Miss America title. I knew I had the talent and brains, she said. I just didnt feel comfortable in front of all those people in a swimsuit. I never thought Id win. I mean, I was pro-choice and pro-ERA, not Little Miss Seawall at the age of 5. The southern girls said Id never win because I didnt fit the profile. They said it was all in the breeding.

A New Breed of Miss America

On September 14, 1983, just six months after entering her first beauty pageant, Vanessa Williams was chosen Miss America. Her closest competitor, Suzette Charles, was also black. Williams won the pageant by singing a torchy rendition of Happy Days Are Here Again and impressed the judges with her honest and witty answers to their questions. Her parents and her entire hometown rejoiced as she won a $25,000 scholarship and the potential of earning many times that much for personal appearances and product endorsements.

Williams embarked on a hectic tour in keeping with her duties as Miss America. Because she was black, she came under unusual scrutiny from the press and public. As a People correspondent put it, Vanessa Williams was perceived not simply as Miss America but as an emblem of social changenot Miss America at all, in that sense, but Miss New America, embodiment of a kind of collective national redemption. Not surprisingly, Williams rebelled against such symbolism, pointing out that she had never felt discriminated against while growing up and that she did not feel race was an issue in her selection. People are reading too much into it, she remarked in People.

The outspoken but poised Miss America was nearing the end of her reign in July of 1984 when the scandal broke. The provocative photographs Chiapel had taken of her with another womanthe ones she insists she never signed for releasefound their way into the pages of Penthouse magazine. After glimpsing the pictures, the shocked Miss America pageant board of directors asked Williams to resign.

Hit Rock Bottom

A weeping Williams consulted with her family, her attorney, and a public relations manRamon Hervey IIwho was called in to help allay the damage. Within 72 hours of the revelation that the photographs would be published, Williams called a press conference and stepped down with dignity and dry eyes. Her losses were immense. Although pageant officials said she could keep the scholarship money, she was dropped from several major product endorsements worth an estimated $2 million. She was also barred from appearing at the 1984 Miss America pageant and was dropped from a Bob Hope television special. Williams confided in People: I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated like I had been raped.... I think this would have to be the worst thing that has happened in my life. But I cant go anyplace but up. Ive hit rock bottom.

Williams had to deny in print that she was a lesbian. She was hounded by obscene telephone calls at home and taunted on the streets. Movie scripts came pouring in for her, but all of them featured excessive nudity and nearpornography. On the other hand, as Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione himself observed, the photographs gained Williams media exposure that eluded many former Miss Americas.

Williams may have earned a spot in the public eye, but she was hardly the toast of Hollywood. Ebony s Norment wrote: The following years were exceptionally trying for the young woman. After the furor over her giving up the Miss America crown subsided, Vanessa continued to pursue her dream of a show business career. She knocked on doors that wouldnt open. She auditioned for parts but never got called back. She met with record company executives, but nobody took her seriously.

Nobody, that is, except Ramon Hervey II, who became Williamss manager in 1985 and her husband in 1987. Hervey helped Williams to choose film roles that would not further tarnish her image, such as the 1987 movie The Pick Up Artist. He also paved the way for a recording contract with PolyGrams Wing Records division, a rhythm and blues subsidiary. Theres no way [Vanessa] would have been taken seriously as an actress in Hollywood, Hervey conceded in GQ. We decided it would be better to concentrate on her musical talents, which we could control. We made a conscious effort to build a base in the black community with a rhythm-and-blues album. If Vanessa didnt succeed in black music first, then shed never succeed. We had to convince the black media to give Vanessa a chance to become a whole person again.

Williamss first album, The Right Stuff, was released in 1988. The album went gold in sales and placed three singles in the Top Ten on the rhythm and blues music charts. Williams helped to make the work a hit by appearing in high-energy music videos and by touring the United States and Europe for live shows. Her efforts won her the best new female recording artist award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1988. She was also nominated for three Grammy awards in the rhythm and blues category. GQ contributor Pat Jordan declared: For the first time in years, the name Vanessa Williams became synonymous not with scandal but with success and a kind of relentless courage. Her life was no longer defined solely by a single aberration from her past.

Success Is the Best Revenge

Williams followed her hit debut album with another wellreceived work, 1991s The Comfort Zone. The LP yielded her first Number One single, Save the Best for Last, a song co-written by Williams and Wendy Waldman. Save the Best for Last stayed at Number One on the pop, rhythm and blues, and adult contemporary charts for five weeks, even as Michael Jacksons Remember the Time failed to make a showing. Superstar recording artist Luther Vandross told an Entertainment Weekly correspondent: I couldnt be more thrilled about whats happening for [Vanessa] right now. The way she looks, the way she sings, that inexplicable something called charisma all work in her favor.

Williams also appeared in feature films and television movies, among them Another You, Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man and Stompin at the Savoy. In between recording sessions, tours, and film work, she and Hervey managed to have two daughters, Melanie and Jillian. Asked in Ebony how she could find time for her various projects and the demands of child rearing, she explained: Black women have been doing this forever. It is really not a question of how you can do it. It needs to be done, and you do it.... There are so many single family households, and Black women have to be strong to keep their families together. Being a Black woman, I think that is one of the roles, the strengths you just acquire. I think we are a strong people.

Williams told a People correspondent that she knows some Americans will always remember the Penthouse pictures, and she knows she will have to explain them to her children some day. The incident was a part of my life that was pretty devastating, she confessed. But in the context of my whole life, I got over it. The versatile performer added in Ebony, Im not dwelling on [the past] now. Im just moving on, for there is nothing I can do to change that, so I just have to deal with it and move on.... If situations arose where I could get revenge, I absolutely would. But at this point, success is the best revenge.

Selected discography

The Right Stuff, Wing, 1988.

The Comfort Zone, Wing, 1991.

Sources

Ebony, April 1987; December 1988; April 1990.

Entertainment Weekly, April 24, 1992.

GQ, June 1990.

Jet, September 16, 1991; February 3, 1992.

Newsweek, August 6, 1984.

Oakland Press (Oakland County, MI), June 14, 1992.

People, October 3, 1983; December 26, 1983-January 2, 1984; August 6, 1984; September 10, 1984; December 24-31, 1984; January 30, 1989.

Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; April 16, 1992; April 30, 1992; May 14, 1992.

Time, August 6, 1984.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Williams, Vanessa

VANESSA WILLIAMS


Born: Millwood, New York, 18 March 1963

Genre: R&B, Pop

Best-selling album since 1990: The Comfort Zone (1991)

Hit songs since 1990: "Save the Best for Last," "Running Back to You"


Few pop singers have triumphed over scandal more successfully than Vanessa Williams. In 1984, when the publication of a nude photo layout resulted in her forced resignation as the first African-American Miss America, few would have predicted that Williams would go on to become one of the most popular recording artists of the 1990s. Blessed with a supple, attractive voice, Williams brought class and elegance to 1990s pop with songs such as "Save the Best for Last." By the end of the decade, she had proven herself a gifted all-around entertainer, finding success on Broadway and in Hollywood movies.

Williams's life was steeped in music from an early age. Both of her parents were music teachers, and as a teenager growing up in a small suburb of New York City she performed in local musical theater on a steady basis. In 1981 she won a scholarship to study theater arts at Syracuse University and, soon after, began entering beauty pageants. In 1984 Williams made history as the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America. Unfortunately, she abdicated the throne after nude photographs of her were published in Penthouse magazine. The lesbian theme of the photos, taken long before she won the pageant, further stirred the controversy. Never lacking confidence, Williams moved past the experience, working with her publicist husband Ramon Hervey to establish a singing career. By 1988 she had signed with Mercury Records' Wing subsidiary and released her first album, The Right Stuff. The album contains the hit single "Dreamin'," a mellow song that highlights the creamy contours of her voice.

In 1991 Williams released a follow-up album, The Comfort Zone, and became a pop star on the basis of its smash hit, "Save the Best for Last." The song's opening lines were a ubiquitous presence on radio stations worldwide: "Sometimes the snow comes down in June / Sometimes the sun goes round the moon." Fitting in perfectly with the laid-back, adult contemporary style prevalent in early 1990s pop, the song was more restrained than the music of Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey, but it benefited from a catchy melody and heavily orchestrated arrangement. A number one pop hit, "Save the Best for Last" pushed sales of The Comfort Zone album over the 2 million mark. The song qualified as plush, if unchallenging, pop music, but elsewhere on the album Williams proved she could handle tougher, up-tempo rhythm-and-blues songs with ease. Of particular note is Williams's version of "Work to Do," a song originally recorded by the R&B group the Isley Brothers in 1972. If lines such as "you might as well get used to me coming home a little late" sound callous in the original version, Williams transforms them into a proud assertion of female independence.

Williams's intelligence as an artist was solidified on her next release, The Sweetest Days (1994). Overall The Sweetest Days is a more ambitious, well-rounded album than Williams's previous releases. "Betcha Never," written by the top producer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, is a seductive R&B song that highlights the appealing lower part of Williams's vocal range. With its surging midtempo rhythm and acoustic guitar part, the song is similar in style and spirit to Babyface's contemporaneous work with singer Toni Braxton. "The Way That You Love" is an assertive, smooth dance number, while the jazzy "Ellamental" offers tribute to the legendary vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. One of the album's standout tracks is "Higher Ground," a gentle, inspirational ballad that bears the influence of country and folk music through its plaintive guitar and minimalist production. The lyrics reflect Williams's own personal journey and triumph: "I have walked too long in darkness . . . Blindly clutching fists of diamonds / That I found were only stones." Williams imbues the song with passion and dignity, proving her skills as an interpretive stylist of depth.

By this time Williams was branching into other areas of the entertainment industry with successful results. In 1994 she took over for the Broadway star Chita Rivera in the hit musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. Her performance as a glamorous movie star radiated vitality and a genuine command of stagecraft. Williams, drawing on her early musical theater training, adapted to the rigors of performing eight shows a week with no vocal strain. In 1996 she received her first major role in Hollywood, co-starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the action film Eraser. Although she released another album, Next, in 1997, she focused primarily on acting in the years that followed, appearing in the films Soul Food (1997), Dance with Me (1998), and Shaft (2000). In 2002 she returned to Broadway in the musical Into the Woods, a performance that inspired New York Post critic Clive Barnes to proclaim her "a born Broadway star." By now Williams was divorced from Ramon Hervey and had married Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Rick Fox, with whom she had a child, her fourth, in 2000.

With her classic beauty and ample singing talent, Vanessa Williams proved she had the skill and courage to overcome setbacks that would have discouraged lesser performers. As a recording artist she combined a solid pop sensibility with the intelligence of a vocal stylist, recording pleasant-sounding hits alongside material that was both personal and challenging.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

The Right Stuff (Wing, 1988); The Comfort Zone (Wing, 1991); The Sweetest Days (Wing, 1995); Star Bright (Mercury, 1996); Next (Mercury, 1997).

SELECTIVE FILMOGRAPHY:

Eraser (1996); Soul Food (1997); Dance with Me (1998); Shaft (2000).

david freeland

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"Williams, Vanessa." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Williams, Vanessa." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved August 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/williams-vanessa