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. Addresses: Home --Near Los Angeles, Calif.; Office --c/o Columbia Records, 51 W. 52nd St., New York NY 10019.
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 music's 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 pop--a 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 didn't have much--Williams's mother was a nurse and her father served as part of the security team for a local business--they 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 McRae--later evident in her own precise enunciation--and 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 "It's 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 I'm 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 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 "It's Okay," both considered strong contributions to the album.
Subsequent recordings have earned similar acclaim. Her 1986 So Glad I Know, the singer's 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 artist's 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 vocalist's "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 songstress's 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."
by Nancy H. Evans
Deniece Williams's Career
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, Thom Bell, and Elton John; solo recording artist, 1976--; founder of Christian Production Company, mid-1980s. Makes concert tours and occasional guest television appearances.
Deniece Williams's Awards
Grammy Award nomination from Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1983, for "It's Gonna Take a Miracle"; Grammy Award for 1986 gospel album So Glad I Know.
- This Is Niecy Columbia, 1976.
- My Melody Columbia, 1981.
- Niecy Columbia, 1982.
- I'm So Proud Columbia, 1983.
- Let's Hear It for the Boy Columbia, 1984.
- So Glad I Know Sparrow, 1986.
- Water Under the Bridge Columbia, 1987.
- I Can't Wait Columbia, 1988.
- Also released numerous singles as well as several anthologies, including Songbird 1977, and When Love Comes Calling 1979.
- 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.