Rachelle Williams is a member of Generation X, who mainly focuses on creating articles of relevance to her generational cohort.
If you are a fan of soul and in R&B the1970s and 1980s, then there is no doubt you are well familiar with singer Deniece Williams.
Williams seemingly came out of nowhere, and she burst onto the scene with her four-octave, soprano voice and audiences were shook! During the mid-1970s and the whole of the 1980s, Deniece Williams, along with Stephanie Mills and Teena Marie, were a trio of women for whom no one could doubt their superior vocal skills.
Although the three aforementioned singers were never in a group together, their singing talent was so unusual that many people considered them to be some of the best vocalists of their time, in fact...of all time - especially black audiences and people who listened to black music around that time.
Today, Williams is not nearly as active as she was in the 70s and 80s, so many folks have wondered, whatever happened to Deniece Williams; if you are one of those people, here is your chance to find out...
Before we get into the meat of uncovering whatever happened to Deniece Williams, we will take a short look at her life and career. Deniece Williams was born "June Deniece Chandler" on June 3rd, 1951 in Gary Indiana.
She is the eldest child in a family that includes four children. Her mother was a nurse and her father, a security professional. Her love of music began when she sang in the choir at the Church of God in Christ.
As an impressionable teenager with an impressively talented singing voice, and a high interest in music and musicians, Williams cites jazz singer, Carmen McRae, as being her biggest influence.
Although singing was her passion, she initially decided to 2 pursue the more commonsensical career of being a nurse, like her mother, so she tried her hand at nursing school. However, she was ultimately dissatisfied so she dropped out after almost 2 years at Morgan State University in Baltimore Maryland.
Her Musical Career Begins
As an alternative to college, Williams took on a part-time job as a singer at the Casino Royale, she stated she liked the job and she enjoyed her time there. To supplement her income, she took on side hustles at a phone company and at Chicago Mercy Hospital.
Eventually, her love for music took hold and in the mid-1960s, she found her way to recording a song for the label group known as The Todlin' Tow. Under the name Deniece Chandler, she recorded the song was called I'm walking away. In an unusual feat for a first release, the song became a surprise hit, but not in the U.S.
I'm walking away saw its popularity soar in England's Northern Soul Scene. England's Northern Soul scene was a music and dance movement in northern England and the English Midlands, and its followers were all about black American Soul music.
In the late 1960s, Deniece sang with the Chicago-based girl group, The Lovelites. There is some discrepancy about whether she actually recorded with The Lovelites. Although her image is not present in the clip below, her voice can definitely be heard on their song, I'm Not Like The Others; you be the judge:
Her Road to Fame Begins
Sometime after her short stint with The Lovelites, Deniece decided to relocate to Cali, but before doing so she married her middle school sweetheart, Kendrick Williams, the couple's son Kendrick Jr. was born in 1972 and Kevin was born in 1973.
Once she and her husband became established in California, Deniece Williams began using her married name professionally and she became a backup singer for Stevie Wonder. She also sang backup for Roberta Flack, Minnie Riperton and Syreeta Wright.
In 1976, she inked a deal with Columbia Records and she released her first studio album, This is Niecy. This album produced the song, Free, which was her breakthrough hit. The song shot up to number 2 on the US Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart and number 1 on the UK Singles Chart for two weeks in May 1977.
Deniece Williams Becomes a Bona-fide Star
The next year, Deniece Williams released the album Song bird. This album produced another hit, Baby, Baby My Love's All For You. By now, Williams was becoming increasingly popular, especially with black audiences.
One of the things Deniece Williams became known for back in the day, besides her spectacular vocal range, was her duets with Johnny Mathis. In 1979 she and Mathis recorded single too much too little too late, for their album titled that's what friends are for.
That same album produced their song, Without Us, which would much later become the theme song for the popular 80s TV sitcom, Family Ties.
Also in 1979, Williams went on to release her fourth studio album When Love Comes Calling, which produced the dance hit I've got the next dance. In her personal life, she and Kendrick Williams divorced, but they had two sons together.
By the time 1981 rolled, around Deniece Williams had recorded her fourth studio album called My Melody and her song, Silly, became yet another hit. By this point in her career Williams' was a household name.
A Crossover Mega-Hit & a Popular 80s TV Theme Song
Williams dropped her fifth album later on in 1981, it was titled Niecy and it produced the hit single It's Gonna Take a Miracle, which is a cover of a 1960s song previously released by the girl group, The Royalettes.
It was late 1982 when her duet with Johnny Mathis (Without Us) became attached to Family Ties. A year later she released her seventh album, I'm So Proud, this album released to moderate success.
Then in 1983 Deniece Williams' popularity reached an even greater level when she released the single, Let's Hear It for the Boy. The song was featured on the film Footloose (1984), which starred Kevin Bacon. The movie tells the story of a teenager who moves from the big city to a small town, and who rebels against a local minister who puts a ban on dancing. Although it was somewhat of a cheese-fest, it was a huge hit and it has gone on to become a cult classic.
Due to a boost from the fame from the movie, the song was absolutely everywhere, and it was played on radio stations across the country ad nauseam. Because of its exposure, Let's Hear It for the Boy is the song people would consider to be the first true crossover hit for Deniece Williams.
During the rest of the 1980s, Williams released three more albums, which produced moderate Hip Hop hits like Never Say Never, I Can't Wait and This is As Good as It Gets, with Stevie Wonder. She also sang on James Taylor's album That's Why I'm Here.
Her Old Passion Takes Center Stage
In between her secular hits in the 1980s, she started Switching gears going back to her love of gospel music. In a sense, she never really abandoned her love for gospel music, because on almost all of her mainstream albums she made sure to record a gospel or inspirational song.
It was also around this time that she spent a very brief time being married to Christopher Joy, they were divorced within a year (1981 - 1982), and they didn't have any children together.
It became evident that Deniece Williams was most interested in singing for God in 1985 on the 27th annual Grammy Awards where Let's Hear it for The Boy was nominated for a Grammy.
Instead of singing the nominated song live, she chose to sing an acapella version of the inspirational song, God is Amazing...this was much to the dismay of her record label. Most of her fans would agree that this was her way of ending her secular music career.
Her Status as a Legend is Sealed
In 1986, Williams signed with Sparrow Records and she released her first gospel studio album, So Glad I Know, which was nominated for a Grammy for best female gospel performance.
On So Glad I Know, she sang a duet called They Say, with Christian singer Sandi Patty, and for this song she won the Grammy Award best gospel vocal performance by a duo or group.
In the same year (1986), Deniece Williams hit gold again with her performance of I Surrender All, for which she won the Grammy Award for Best Female Soul Gospel Performance.
Not only did she pick up another Grammy award in 1986, she also picked up a third husband. Williams married Brad Westering, with whom she had two sons, Forrest, born in 1988 and Logan, born in 1991. Westerling and Williams divorced in 1993.
After a much-needed break from music, she returned in 1999, she released another gospel album, titled This Is My Song and once again, she took home the Grammy for Best Contemporary Pop Gospel Album. With four Grammy nominations and three back to back wins, Deniece Williams had become a legend.
A Mini-Return to Secular Music
In 2007 Deniece Williams released the R&B album, Love, Niecy Style. By this time decades had passed since her hit R&B days, and musical styles, tastes, and the entire industry had changed, so audiences weren't as receptive music as they had been before. But it did not matter, because, at this point in her career, she had already achieved legendary status.
Deniece Williams is often imitated, tributed, covered and the likes, but her skill is rarely duplicated. However, one particular effort stands out. In 2010, popular R&B singer Monica Arnold, better known as "Monica," released the single, Everything to Me, which samples Williams' song, Silly.
Monica's song stands out because the arrangement is beautiful and highly reminiscent of the original song, and the singer manages to hit the ending high note for which the song is so famous, and in much the same way as Williams.
The song was dedicated to fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, whose fashions she wore in the video for the song, and who had recently committed suicide. It was evident Deniece Williams appreciated Monica's tribute because she took the stage with her and the two performed their songs together at the BET Awards.
Deniece Williams Today
As I pen this article in early 2020, Deniece Williams is still going strong. She is currently on tour with Dionne Warwick and Peabo Bryson in a show called A Night of Class. Unfortunately, the remainder of her those shows, as with most other large gatherings, have been canceled due to the spread of the highly contagious Coronovirus (COVID-19).
Fun fact, I was today years old when I found out, through research for this article, that Deniece Williams does not spell her name in the traditional manner (Denise Williams)...and I've been a fan of hers since the late 70s...
© 2020 Rachelle Williams
fran rooks from Toledo, Ohio on March 15, 2020:
Beautiful article and she seems to be a lovely person. Thanks for the report.