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Vanessa Lynn Williams (born March 18, 1963) is a Grammy Award-nominated, Emmy Award-nominated, and Tony Award-nominated American R&B/pop/theatrical singer and actress
Williams made history in 1983 when she became the first African-American woman to be crowned Miss America. Williams' reign as Miss America came to an abrupt end when scandal led to her subsequent resignation of the title. Williams rebounded by launching a career as an entertainer.
Williams was born in Watertown, New York to Milton and Helen Williams, who were both music teachers. She has a younger brother named Chris, who is also an actor. They grew up in a 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. She received a scholarship and attended Syracuse University as a Theatre Arts major, but chose to discontinue her college education to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
After time out of the spotlight, Williams secured a record deal, and released her debut album, The Right Stuff in 1988. The first single, "The Right Stuff", was successful on the R&B charts and the third single, "Dreamin'", was a chart success becoming Williams' first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and her first number one single in the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album reached gold status and earned her three Grammy Award nominations, including one for Best New Artist.
Her second album The Comfort Zone became the biggest success in her music career. The lead single Running Back to You became another chart topper for her, reaching the top position of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart in October 5, 1991. Other singles included "The Comfort Zone", "Just for Tonight", "Work to Do" and the club hit "Freedom Dance (Get Free!). The most successful single from the album, as well as her biggest hit to date is "Save the Best for Last". The song was at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks and reached #1 on charts in countries all over the world, including Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada and in the top 5 in Japan and the United Kingdom. The album went three times platinum in the United States by the RIAA, gold in Canada by the CRIA, and platinum in the United Kingdom by the BPI. The Comfort Zone earned her five Grammy Award nominations.
In addition to Williams' first two albums, her most notable chart successes have included the songs "Love Is", "The Sweetest Days", "Colors of the Wind", and "Oh How The Years Go By". In total, Williams has sold over six million records and received fifteen Grammy Award nominations.
In early 2007, it was announced she had signed with jazz label Concord Records. An album, which will be her 9th, is expected later this year and will be a mix of old jazz standards as well as new ballads/Brazilian bossa nova as well.
Williams parlayed her ascendant music career into a theatrical role when she was cast in the Broadway production of Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1994. She was also featured in a Tony-nominated performance as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods in a revival of the show in 2002, which included songs revised for her.
Other notable theatrical roles include her performances in Carmen Jones at the Kennedy Center, the off-Broadway productions of One Man Band and Checkmates, and the New York City Center's Encores!® Great American Musicals in Concert, St. Louis Woman.
Williams has appeared in several feature films. Her most prominent role was in the film Soul Food (1997), for which she won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. Vanessa appeared in the 1991 cult classic film Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. She also co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Eraser and opposite Latin sensation Chayanne in Dance with Me.
As of 2007, Vanessa has starred in two movies. The first being My Brother(in which she received an award) and the second being And Then Came Love.
For the complete list of her feature film roles, see Vanessa L. Williams at the Internet Movie Database.
Williams' first television appearance was on a 1984 episode of The Love Boat, playing herself. She subsequently made guest appearances on a number of shows, including T.J. Hooker, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saturday Night Live, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, LateLine, MADtv, Ally McBeal and Boomtown.
She has had many appearances in television movies and miniseries, including Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer and The Jacksons: An American Dream. She played the nymph Calypso in the 1997 Hallmark Entertainment miniseries The Odyssey, starring Armand Assante. She appeared as the Ebenezer Scrooge character in an update of the Charles Dickens story "A Christmas Carol" called "A Diva's Christmas Carol". In 2001, Williams starred in the Lifetime cable movie about the life of Henriette DeLille, The Courage to Love. In early 2006 she starred in the short lived UPN drama South Beach.
In 2007, Williams received considerable media attention for her comic/villainess role as magazine editor Wilhelmina Slater in the ABC comedy series Ugly Betty, produced by Salma Hayek. Her performance on the series has resulted in a nomination for outstanding supporting actress at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards.
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