Vanessa Williams is one of the most respected and multi-faceted performers in entertainment today. 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 critical praise.
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. Her parents were 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. She won an NFAA scholarship was a finalist for a Presidential Scholarship in acting in 1981 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.
Vanessa launched her recording career in 1988 with her first album, The Right Stuff, which went gold and earned her first three Grammy Award nominations. Her 1991 multi-million selling follow-up, The Comfort Zone, which featured the unforgettable “Save the Best for Last”, and her third album, The Sweetest Days, each yielded multiple hits and Grammy nominations. She was nominated for yet another Grammy for her hit single “Colors of the Wind”, from Disney’s Pocahontas, which went on to win an Academy Award, Golden Globe and the Grammy for Best Song in a Motion Picture. Her numerous recordings also include two holiday albums, Star Bright and Silver & Gold, Vanessa Williams Greatest Hits: The First Ten Years; Our Favorite Things, with Tony Bennett, Placido Domingo and Charlotte Church and Everlasting Love, a collection of her favorite love songs from the 1970s.
In 1994, Vanessa realized a life-long dream, taking Broadway by storm when she replaced Chita Rivera in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” Her performance won critics over and was a box-office sensation, firmly establishing Vanessa as a multi-talented triple-threat. Vanessa also garnered rave reviews and was nominated for a Tony Award in the 2002 revival of Stephen “Into the Woods,” taking a brief break from the production to headline a limited special engagement of the classic, “Carmen Jones,” at the Kennedy Center, playing to sold-out houses and achieving glowing notices. Previously, Vanessa captivated theatre-goers off-Broadway in “One Man Band” and in the Los Angeles production of Ron Milner’s “Checkmates.” She also starred in the Encore! Series staged concert production of “St. Louis Woman,” which was also released as a cast recording.
Vanessa made her film debut in 1986 in “Under the Gun” and she appeared in the films “The Pick-Up Artist,” “Another You” (with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder) and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” (with Mickey Rourke). She starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Warner Bros.’ action thriller, “Eraser,” followed by a leading role opposite Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia in “Hoodlum” and an NAACP Image Award winning performance with the box-office hit, “Soul Food.” She has starred in the romantic dance-musical “Dance with Me,” “Light It Up,” “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland” and “Shaft,” opposite Samuel L. Jackson. She co-starred in “Johnson Family Vacation” with Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey. She starred recently in the independent features, “My Brother” and “Somebody Like You” and co-stars in Disney’s upcoming feature film, “Hannah Montana: The Movie.”
Vanessa has also played diverse roles on television, in such productions as “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” “The Boy Who Loved Christmas” and “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” for which she won an NAACP Image Award. She commanded rave reviews for her performance in ABC’s revival of “Bye, Bye Birdie” and starred in the mini-series “Nothing Lasts Forever” and the Emmy-nominated “The Odyssey,” which also garnered impressive ratings and an Image Award nomination for Vanessa. Vanessa starred opposite John Lithgow in TNT’s “Don Quixote” and she executive produced and starred in “The Courage to Love” for Lifetime Television. She starred in the VH1 Original Movie, “A Diva’s Christmas Carol,” which was the highest rated movie ever for VH1, their second highest rated telecast overall of in 2000 and their fourth highest rated telecast of all time. She co-starred in the Showtime movie “Keep the Faith, Baby” and the UPN drama, “South Beach.” She currently stars in ABC’s critically-acclaimed hit series, “Ugly Betty,” for which she has won or been nominated for numerous individual and ensemble awards, including the Emmy, SAG Award, Golden Globe and NAACP Image Awards.
Among Vanessa’s many awards and honors, she was honored in 1996 with the coveted Lena Horne Career Achievement Award at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards. In 2007, she achieved a career pinnacle, with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her accomplishments as a performer.
Vanessa’s charitable contributions are many and varied, embracing and supporting such issues as education, homelessness, abuse, women’s issues and health concerns, AIDS and anything having to do with children. Specifically, she is actively involved with such organizations as Green Chimneys, a working farm in Westchester County that provides educational and residential programs to help troubled inner-city adolescents; The Open Door, which provides walk-in medical care for homeless families; The Cottage School for displaced young women and the Special Olympics, among many others.
The Real Thing (2009) is Vanessa Williams’ Concord Records debut and her first album in more than four years. In her own words, The Real Thing is “a potpourri of breezy Latin rhythms, sultry jazz standards and dreamy pop sketches,” and delves into the sophisticated pop and R&B that have been the hallmark of her dynamic musical career.