About the Pops Pops Timeline Listen Up! FAQ Broadcast Schedule Program Notes Evening at POPS

Evening at Pops Header Menu

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams Throughout her performing career, Vanessa Williams has maintained a reputation as one of the most respected and multi-faceted entertainers in the world, amassing accomplishments and accolades, one after another. She has conquered the musical charts, Broadway, music videos, television and motion pictures. She has sold over four million albums worldwide and her skills as an actress on stage, in film and on television have earned praise from the most seasoned of critics.

Performing -- and music in particular -- has always played an important role in Vanessa's life. Born in Millwood, New York, Vanessa's early years were spent surrounded by music. Both her parents are music teachers who recognized her musical gifts early on and encouraged her to pursue her love of the arts. When she was young, she acted, danced, played piano and French horn in her high school orchestra, concert band and marching band and she sang in the concert choir and chorus. Her early interest in performing led to a passion for musical theatre, which began in school and continued as she went on to star in numerous community theatre productions.

Vanessa won a Presidential Scholarship in Drama and chose to continue her education at Syracuse University, where she majored in musical theatre. While at college in 1983, Vanessa was sought after by local talent scouts who invited her to participate in the Miss Greater Syracuse Pageant. Three months later, Vanessa won the 1983 Miss America title and the $30,000 scholarship that accompanied it. The controversy that followed only left Vanessa stronger and more empowered in her commitment to a career in the world of entertainment.

In 1987, Mercury/Wing executive Ed Eckstine signed Vanessa to his label, after noticing her singing back-up vocals on a George Clinton single, "Do Fries Go With That Shake," which marked her professional debut. The next year, her first album, "The Right Stuff," made an immediate impact on the pop and R&B charts with four hits: "Dreamin'," "Darling I," "He's Got the Look" and a title track that became a dance/pop/R&B smash. Her debut went gold and she earned her first three Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist.

In 1991, her multi-million selling follow-up, "The Comfort Zone," took Vanessa to new heights. The album featured a tougher, stronger feel and produced such hits as the sizzling title track, "Running Back to You," a remake of the Isley Brothers' "Work To Do" and "Just For Tonight." However, it was the unforgettable "Save the Best For Last" that earned her the true respect of the recording industry and captivated audiences around the world. The single knocked Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" out of the #1 spot, luxuriating at the top of the pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts for five straight weeks. Internationally, "Save the Best For Last" shot to #1 in Australia, Holland and Canada and the top five in England and Japan.

Throughout Vanessa's musical career, her music videos have played an integral part in capturing her sheer visual beauty and her gift for genuine expressive interpretation on camera. Her second #1 pop hit, "Love Is" -- a single from the soundtrack for the hit television series "Beverly Hills, 90210" with labelmate Brian McKnight -- kept the chart momentum going.

As her resume diversified with roles in film, television and on stage, Vanessa's recording career continued to flourish. Her third album, "The Sweetest Days -- released in 1994 -- proved to be a true showcase for the scope of her musical talents. Vanessa co-produced seven tracks on the best-selling platinum album with Gerry Brown and worked with super-producers Babyface and Keith Thomas. This album allowed her, as Rolling Stone noted, to "boldly lay claim to a more acoustic aesthetic that allows the natural beauty of her voice to shine." The album expanded Vanessa's musical vocabulary, delving into jazz, rock, folk and soul and producing such hits as the title track and the pop/R&B-flavored "Betcha Never." With "The Sweetest Days," Rolling Stone went on to say, "Williams continues to conquer new territory and re-define her artistic identity, with splendid results." "The Sweetest Days" went platinum and yielded multiple Grammy Award nominations, including Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for "The Way That You Love," Best R&B Song for songwriter Babyface ("You Can't Run") and Babyface won Producer of the Year, in part for his work on her tracks "Betcha Never" and "You Can't Run." These nominations attest to Vanessa's continued popularity and credibility -- she was nominated for either Best R&B and/or Best Pop Female Vocal for each of her first three albums.

She was nominated for yet another Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for her hit single "Colors of the Wind," the theme song from the blockbuster Disney animated feature "Pocahontas." The single spent six weeks in the Top 5 of the Pop Hot 100 charts, propelling the soundtrack to multi-platinum status. "Colors of the Wind" went on to win an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and a Grammy Award for Best Song in a Motion Picture.

In 1996, Vanessa recorded her first solo Christmas album --- the critically-acclaimed and Grammy-nominated "Star Bright" -- and headlined her own all-star Christmas special, "Vanessa Williams and Friends: Christmas in New York," which aired on ABC with guests Rosie O'Donnell, Luther Vandross, Babyface, Shania Twain and Savion Glover, among others.

Vanessa's fourth pop album, "Next," on which she served as executive producer, featured tracks created by such stellar songwriters and producers as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, R. Kelly, Barry Eastmond and Vanessa's longtime collaborator, Keith Thomas. On "Next," Vanessa moved effortlessly between the funky "Happiness," to the sultry hip-hop of "Surrender" to the breezy "Who Were You Thinkin' About" to compelling, heartfelt ballads like "Oh, How the Years Go By" that have become her musical trademark.

Vanessa released "Vanessa Williams Greatest Hits: The First Ten Years" and appeared with Tony Bennett, Placido Domingo and Charlotte Church on the 2001 holiday release, "Our Favorite Things."

Vanessa performed her first-ever concert tour in 1997, co-headlining with Luther Vandross in 25 cities across the U.S. and finishing with a solo tour throughout Japan and Southeast Asia, as well as ongoing American engagements across the country.

Musically, Vanessa has also been highlighted on such projects as producer/composer David Foster's Christmas album, the end-title song for the Paramount feature "Almost an Angel," and she provided the singing and speaking voice of Beauty in "Beauty and the Beast," an installment of HBO's animated "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales For Every Child." Her musical accomplishments also include "Ain't Nuthin' but a She Thing," a special all-female concept record which features Vanessa and Me'Shell Ndegeocello on the track "Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly." Funds from the album were donated to The Shirley Divers Foundation for Women, which in turn is distributing monies to various charities dedicated to women's health concerns and related issues. She can also be heard on "People," an album celebrating the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and she recorded material from the legendary musical "West Side Story" for an album featuring classical diva Harolyn Blackwell. Vanessa has also contributed the song "Snowflakes" to "For Our Children Too!," a collection of children's recordings to benefit the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

Broadcast Schedule | Program Notes | About the Pops | Pops Timeline | Listen Up! | FAQ
Site Map | Credits

Evening at Pops | WGBH Home | PBS Home

© WGBH 2004