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Williams, Deniece 1951–

Deniece Williams 1951

Vocalist

Planned Nursing Career

Debut Produced by Maurice White

Song Appeared on Film Soundtrack

Selected discography

Sources

With a four-octave range and a distinctive soprano voice often described as birdlike, Deniece Williams was a fixture of urban and pop radio formats in the 1980s. She placed 24 single releases in the R&B Top 40; the duet Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, which featured Williamss sometime duet partner Johnny Mathis, and four other songs advanced to the charts top spot. Williams, who writes or co-writes much of her own material, started her musical life in the gospel genre and returned to gospel in the 1990s, successfully making the transition in middle age to the active musical life that eluded so many other artists.

Williams was born Deniece Chandler in Gary, Indiana, on June 3, 1951. Her father was a security guard and her mother a nurse. Niecy Chandler accompanied her family to the local Church of God in Christ, where she sang in the choir. The church discouraged its members from listening to secular music, and her first vocal model was her mother. But when she took a job in a record store as a teenager, she began to encounter the pop music of the day. From the start she gravitated toward virtuoso vocalsshe enjoyed the music of the young Patti LaBelle, jazz stylist Carmen McRae, and later the fiery upper-register specialist Minnie Riperton.

Planned Nursing Career

The young record-store employee not only listened to these recordings but sang along with them as well, and her boss, impressed, put her in touch with the independent Toddlin Town music label in nearby Chicago. She recorded a single called Love Is Tears that made it onto the radio in her hometown, but a music career still didnt really seem to be within reach, and she began to think about a career in nursing. That came to an end after she dropped out of Purdue University. She volunteered her services at a Chicago hospital for a time, married educator Ken Williams, and had two children.

Soon, however, Williams found that her musical instincts were ripe for reawakening. She had a cousin from Detroit who worked as a valet for Motown Records superstar Stevie Wonder, and out of that connection came a backstage meeting with Wonder after a concert. Williams impressed Wonder enough to land an audition, along with 25 other women, when a slot in Wonders backup vocal group, Wonderlove, opened up in 1972. Williams was chosen, and she toured with Wonder for the next four years.

Those four years provided Williams with an education in the ways of the music businessboth in making useful contacts and in learning to cope with its excesses. The excesses were on display when Wonder toured with the party-hearty rock band the Rolling Stones. Here I am all wide-eyed and innocent asking Whats that man doing sprawled on the floor? Isnt anybody going to help him? Williams recalled in conversation with the Chicago Sun-Times. With Williamss marriage having fallen apart, her children were an anchor, not a chore. I had to go home after a show and change diapers, she told the Sun-Times. I really needed my kids. If I didnt have them, I dont know where Id be.

At a Glance

Born Deniece Chandler on June 3, 1951; grew up in Gary, IN; father a security guard and mother a nurse; married three times; two children by first husband Ken Williams (an educator); two by third husband Brad Westerling (a music producer). Education: Attended Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN,

Career: Recorded single Love Is Tears for Toddlin Town label, Chicago, 1960s; joined Wonderlove, backup group for singer Stevie Wonder, 1972; signed to Columbia label; released debut album This Is Niecy, 1976; released duet album Thats What Friends Are For with vocalist Johnny Mathis, 1978; top pop hit with Lets Hear It for the Boy, from film Footloose, 1984; released debut gospel album So Glad I Know, 1986; continued to record gospel and secular material, 1990s.

Selected awards: Grammy awards for albums So Glad I Know (1986) and This Is My Song (1998); Grammy nomination for Its Gonna Take a Miracle, 1983.

Addresses: Management Agency for Preferred Artists, 9000 Sunset Blvd., 12th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90069, Booking Agent William Morris Agency, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., 16th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067.

Debut Produced by Maurice White

The useful contacts Williams made included producer Maurice White, whom many considered the brains behind the phenomenally successful vocal group Earth, Wind & Fire. White got Williams signed to the Columbia label and co-produced her debut album, This Is Niecy, which appeared in 1976. Free, a single taken from This Is Niecy, was a moderate hit in the United States and a chart-topping smash in Great Britain, where Williams found herself performing for Prince Charles.

For her next project Williams offered an album of duets with the middle-aged, middle-of-the-road pop vocalist Johnny Mathisperhaps an unexpected move for a rising vocalist in the generally youth-oriented urban contemporary field, but one that succeeded brilliantly. The album Thats What Friends Are For brought Williams fans across the demographic spectrum without alienating urban listeners; the single Too Much, Too Little, Too Late rose to the top of both pop and R&B charts (in the process becoming Mathiss first chart single at any level since 1974) and brought Williams her first gold record for sales of 500,000 copies. The album itself also went gold, and its second single, the Motown remake Youre All I Need to Get By, was another strong performer.

A second marriage, which soon ended in divorce, didnt slow Williams down. She was a consistent hitmaker in the earlys 1980s; her virtuosic yet gentle voice impressed listeners with her vocal skills, yet had a quality that made it blend seamlessly into pop arrangements. Working in collaboration with veteran producer Thorn Bell, she scored top-level chart singles with Silly (1981, from the album My Melody) and Its Gonna Take a Miracle, which was drawn from 1982s Niecy album and once again landed Williams in the pop top ten. Williams herself took on co-production chores with her next two releases, Im So Proud (1983) and 1984s Lets Hear It for the Boy.

Song Appeared on Film Soundtrack

Lets Hear It for the Boy featured as its title track a prominent selection in that years hit film Footloose, and the song, which the St. Petersburg Times dubbed the background music of 1984, brought Williams her second pop number one. After that, Williamss popularity waned somewhat as what was known as black pop declined and hip-hop and harder-edged R&B styles came to the fore. Williams continued to record secular music, winning critical acclaim for such albums as Water Under the Bridge (1987). From the late 1980s onward, however, her main musical focus was gospel.

Maurice White produced Williamss gospel debut, So Glad I Know, which was released in 1986. The singer didnt abandon her R&B production stylings. We felt that people had grown accustomed to hearing Deniece Williams in an R&B format, so why change? Williams explained to the Ottawa Citizen. Nevertheless, gospel definitely gave Williams a chance to display her vocal abilities to the fullest, and several of her gospel albums have been honored with Grammy awards. Williams and the equally vocally athletic Contemporary Christian singer Sandi Patty took home a Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group honor, and Williams garnered two solo Grammys soon after that.

Williams married again, to producer Brad Westerling, and in 1991 drew on her experiences in child-raising to record the album Lullabies to Dreamland. I didnt consider radio play, Williams told the Chicago Sun-Times. I wanted to do something for children and their parents. She performed twice for Pope John Paul II, in 1991 and 1993, and continued to record. Her 1998 gospel album, This Is My Song, won Williams her fourth Grammy award, this one for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album. Along with several other 1980s stars, Williams appeared on the Colors of Christmas touring holiday concert in the late 1990s.

Selected discography

This Is Niecy, Columbia, 1976.

Songbird, Columbia, 1977.

Thats What Friends Are For, Columbia, 1978 (with Johnny Mathis).

When Love Comes Calling, Columbia, 1979.

My Melody, Columbia, 1981.

Niecy, Columbia, 1982.

Vm So Proud, Columbia, 1983.

Lets Hear It for the Boy, Columbia, 1984.

Hot on the Trail, Columbia, 1986.

So Glad I Know, Sparrow, 1986.

Water Under the Bridge, Columbia, 1987.

As Good as It Gets, Columbia, 1988.

Lullabies to Dreamland, Word, 1991.

Greatest Gospel Hits, Sparrow, 1994.

Best of Deniece Williams: Gonna Take a Miracle, Columbia, 1996.

This Is My Song, Harmony, 1998.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, volume 1, Gale, 1989.

Slonimsky, Nicolas, ed. emeritus, Bakers Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians, centennial ed., Schirmer, 2001.

Periodicals

Chicago Sun-Times, March 25, 1992, p. Features-4. Ottawa Citizen, August 18, 1993, p. B6.

St. Petersburg Times, November 26, 1999, p. Weekend-17.

On-line

http://allmusic.com

http://music.lycos.com

James M. Manheim

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Williams, Deniece

Deniece Williams

Singer and songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Singer-songwriter Deniece Williams emerged as an exciting new talent during the 1970s, captivating audiences with an engaging performing style and a stellar voice. Since that time, the vocalist has proven herself one of musics most popular entertainers, scoring hit singles, recording solo LPs, and even taking home a Grammy Award for her 1986 gospel album So Glad I Know. Indeed, with the ability to span four octaves, Williams, according to US reviewer Michael Musto, possesses one of the most distinctive voices in popa high, vibrato-filled instrument capable of dazzling.

A native of Gary, Indiana, Deniece Williams, nicknamed Niecy, grew up as the eldest of four children born to working-class parents. Although the family didnt have muchWilliamss mother was a nurse and her father served as part of the security team for a local businessthey regularly attended the Church of God in Christ, where the youth got her musical start singing in the choir. She was also influenced by the impeccable articulation of singer Carmen McRaelater evident in her own precise enunciationand at the age of seventeen the ambitious singer made her first single. The record only received air time in Gary, however, so the would-be vocalist decided to put her music career in abeyance and try nursing school.

Unsatisfied with that venture also, Williams eventually dropped out of school, married, and decided to start her family. But shortly thereafter one of her cousins, fortuitously employed by Stevie Wonder, scheduled Deniece for an audition with the musical great. He heard her, hired her to sing with his back-up group, Wonderlove, and the young singer finally found her professional career underway.

Williams spent the next several years touring with Stevie Wonder and refining her skills. She learned much from Wonder as well as from producer Maurice White, and by 1976 she was ready to launch her first solo album, This Is Niecy. Considered a stunning debut, the album provoked immediate acclaim and became a gold record in 1977. Williams followed it with a hit single in 1978, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late, recorded with Johnny Mathis, and by 1983 she had secured a Grammy Award nomination for the rhythm and blues tune Its Gonna Take a Miracle.

Since then, the vocalist has continued to outdo herself, consistently winning praise from the critics as well as attracting new fans. Writing for Stereo Review, Phyl Garland lauded her 1983 album Im So Proud as both an artistic and a popular triumph, declaring the artist the songbird of soul. According to Garland, Williams has been able to attain popular success without compromising [because] she has forged a distinctive vocal

For the Record

Full name, June Deniece Williams; born in 1951; grew up in Gary, Ind.; daughter of a security worker and a nurse; married first husband (divorced); married Christipher Joy (an actor and a minister), c. 1981 (marriage ended, 1982); married Brad Westering (a record producer and manager), c. 1986; children: (first marriage) Kenderick, Kevin; (third marriage) Forrest. Education: Attended Purdue University.

Singer and songwriter. Singer with Wonderlove, back-up group for Stevie Wonder, mid-1970s; has worked with many other artists, including back-up for Earth, Wind, and Fire, touring with Roberta Flack, and recording with Johnny Mathis, Thorn Bell, and Elton John; solo recording artist, 1976; founder of Christian Production Company, mid-1980s. Makes concert tours and occasional guest television appearances.

Awards: Grammy Award nomination from Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1983, for Its Gonna Take a Miracle; Grammy Award for 1986 gospel album So Glad I Know.

Addresses: Home Near Los Angeles, Calif.;Office c/o Columbia Records, 51 W. 52nd St., New York NY 10019.

style that sizzles with brilliance. The album includes a duet with Mathis, So Deep in Love, and also features several songs co-written by Williams. Among them are Love, Peace and Unity and Its Okay, both considered strong contributions to the album.

Subsequent recordings have earned similar acclaim. Her 1986 So Glad I Know, the singers first gospel album, finds Williams in splendid voice, soaring heavenward with bird-like flutters, twists, and daring high notes, applauded a Stereo Review critic. Stereo Review also deemed her performance heavenly, and the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences concurred, honoring Williams with a Grammy Award for the album. One of the artists most recent albums, Water Under the Bridge, returns to popular tunes. On this recording Williams has been praised for her still emotional, but now mature and controlled approach to her material, with a People critic particularly commending When Love Finds You for its demonstration of the vocalists astonishing upper register.

Although a relative newcomer to contemporary music, Deniece Williams appears to have found an audience that only seems destined to grow. Gifted with a rich voice that admirers claim has a bird-like ability to dip and soar with ease, Williams combines emotion with technique to produce music of the highest integrity. Indeed, one critic has claimed that there is little music that is even worthy of the songstresss voice. But that shortcoming aside, fans should continue to be dazzled by a voice, described Garland, that pulls high notes from the aural stratosphere with miraculous ease.

Selected discography

LPs

This Is Niecy, Columbia, 1976.

My Melody, Columbia, 1981.

Niecy, Columbia, 1982.

Im So Proud, Columbia, 1983.

Lets Hear It for the Boy, Columbia, 1984.

So Glad I Know, Sparrow, 1986.

Water Under the Bridge, Columbia, 1987.

I Cant Wait, Columbia, 1988.

Also released numerous singles as well as several anthologies, including Songbird, 1977, and When Love Comes Calling, 1979.

Sources

Essence, May, 1985.

Jet, August 16, 1982; March 31, 1986; October 17, 1988.

People, June 18, 1984; June 29, 1987.

Rolling Stone, December 5, 1985.

Stereo Review, September, 1982; October, 1983; November, 1986; January, 1987.

US, June 22, 1982.

Nancy H. Evans

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Williams, Deniece

Williams, Deniece

Williams, Deniece (originally, Chandler,Deniece), R&B chart topper of the mid-1970s and 1980s who has since converted to gospel music; (b. Gary, Ind., June 3, 1951). Like so many performers, Deniece Williams began singing in church but became aware of R&B and pop as a teenager. She took a job working part-time at a local record store during high school. Singing along with records impressed her boss, who invited people from Chicago’s Toddlin’ Town Records to hear her. They, too, were impressed and recorded “Love Is Tears” with her. The record became a local hit and started the high school student off as a singer.

When Williams graduated from high school she started to pursue a degree in nursing. However, Stevie Wonder had heard her singles and asked her if she would join his band as a backing vocalist. She worked with Wonder from 1972-76, appearing on four of his albums. When Wonder moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, Deniece moved, too. In addition to her work with Wonder, she sang with artists such as Minnie Ripperton and Roberta Flack.

Maurice White co-produced her Columbia debut, This Is Niecy and took her on the road with Earth Wind and Fire. The single from the album, “Free,” had moderate success in the U.S., reaching #2 on the R&B charts and hitting #25. The song was a huge hit in England. The album did go gold in the U.S., hitting #33. In England, Williams gave a royal command performance for Prince Charles. Two years later, she released That’s What Friends Are For,an album of duets with Johnny Mathis. It was a good match—it brought the youth and raw soul of Williams together with the class and cachet of Mathis, who had not had a chart single since 1974. “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late” topped the pop and R&B charts and went gold in the spring of 1978. They followed this with a version of Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell’s Motown classic “You’re All I Need to Get By,” which missed the pop Top 40 but went #10 R&B. The album rose to #19 and was certified gold just two weeks after it came out.

In 1981, Williams went into the studio with Thorn Bell recording My Melody. That album garnered the R&B hit “Silly.” Continuing to work with Bell on her next album, Neicy, she again topped the R&B charts with a version of the Royalettes’ hit “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” taking it to #10 pop. Neicy peaked at #20. Williams started to take a little more control of her career and music with 1983’s Tm So Proud, co-producing the record with Bill Neal. She continued to do this with her next album, Let’s Hear It for the Boy. The title track came from the hit movie Footloose, hitting the top of the charts and going platinum. The album topped out at #28. When her impact on the pop charts waned after this, Williams went back to gospel. Her 1986 duet, ’They Say” with Sandy Patti, won a Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group, Choir or Chorus. Her own “I Surrender All” won Best Soul Gospel Performance, Female. She also won that award in 1987 for “I Believe in You.” Since then, she has continued to record both sacred and secular music. She performed for the Pope in both 1991 and 1993.

Discography

Untitled (1972); This Is Niecy (1976); Song Bird (1977); That’s What Friends Are For (with Johnny Mathis; 1978); When Love Comes Calling (1979); My Melody (1981); Niecy (1982); I’m So Proud (1983); Let’s Hear It for the Boy (1984); Hot on the Trail (1986); From the Beginning (1986); Water under the Bridge (1987); As Good as It Gets (1988); So Glad I Know (1988); Special Love (1989); Lullabies to Dreamland (1991); Love Solves It All (1996); This Is My Song (1998).

—Hank Bordowitz

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