About Vanessa Williams
Although she was forced to turn in her Miss America crown (1983) after Penthouse magazine published nude photos of her, Vanessa Williams bounced back with a successful career as a singer and branched out into Broadway, movies and television. Her recording hit to date, is the single "Save the Best for Last." For her achievement in the recording industry, Williams was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She was born on March 18, 1963 in Millwood, New York, the daughter of music teachers Helen and Milton Augustine Williams Jr. Williams and her younger brother Chris, who is also an actor, grew up in Millwood, a predominantly white middle-class suburban area. Prophetically, her parents put "Here she is: Miss America" on her birth announcement.
Williams studied piano and French horn growing up, but was most interested in singing and songwriting. She received a scholarship and attended Syracuse University as a Theatre Arts major from 1981 to 1983. She discontinued her education at Syracuse during her sophomore year to fulfill her duties as Miss America, and then subsequently left the university to focus on her entertainment career. Twenty-five years later, she graduated from Syracuse by earning her remaining college credits through her life experience. Williams delivered the convocation address on May 10, 2008, to 480 other students in the College of Visual and Performing Arts.
She competed in the Miss Syracuse (University) beauty pageant when a campus musical she was in was canceled in 1983. After winning the Miss Syracuse title, Williams won the Miss New York crown in 1983, and went to compete for the Miss America title at the national pageant in Atlantic City. Prior to the final night of competition, Williams won both Preliminary competitions - Talent and Swimsuit - earlier in the week (note: each day's Preliminary competitions have winners announced; therefore there can be as many as six "Prelim" winners; three each for Talent and Swimsuit. To win a "prelim"in both is a strong precursor to success in the finals.) She was crowned Miss America 1984 on September 17, 1983, becoming the first African American to win the title.
Williams' reign as Miss America was not without its challenges and controversies. For the first time in pageant history, a reigning Miss America was the target of death threats and hate mail.
Ten months into her reign as Miss America, she received an anonymous phone call stating that nude photos of her taken before her pageant days had surfaced. Williams believed the photographs were private and had been destroyed; she claims she never signed a release permitting the photos to be used.
The genesis of the photos dated back to 1982, when she worked as an assistant and makeup artist for Mount Kisco, New York photographer Tom Chiapel. According to Williams, Chiapel advised her that he wanted to try a "new concept of silhouettes with two models." He photographed Williams and another woman in several nude poses, including simulated lesbian sex.
Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, was initially offered the photos, but turned them down. Later, Hefner would explain why in People Weekly, "Vanessa Williams is a beautiful woman. There was never any question of our interest in the photos. But they clearly weren't authorized and because they would be the source of considerable embarrassment to her, we decided not to publish them. We were also mindful that she was the first black Miss America." Days later, Bob Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, announced that his magazine would publish the photos in their September 1984 issue, and paid Chiapel for the rights to them without Williams' consent. According to the PBS documentary Miss America, Williams' issue of Penthouse would ultimately bring Guccione a $14 million windfall.
After days of media frenzy and sponsors threatening to pull out of the upcoming 1985 pageant, Williams felt pressured by Miss America Pageant officials to resign, and did so in a press conference on July 23, 1984. The title subsequently went to the first runner-up, Suzette Charles, also an African American. In early September 1984, Williams filed a $500 million lawsuit against Chiapel and Guccione.
Although she resigned from fulfilling the duties of a current Miss America, Williams was allowed to keep the bejeweled crown and scholarship money and is officially recognized by the Miss America Organization as "Miss America 1984"; Charles is recognized as "Miss America 1984b."
After 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."
Sources: Wikipedia, Answers ¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨¨ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/17/vanessa-williams-ancestry-mail-order-dna-test_n_2698112.html
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Vanessa Williams's Timeline
March 18, 1963
Millwood, NY, USA