Vanessa Williams is a singer, actress, producer, and former model who was crowned the first African American Miss America in 1983.
Vanessa was drawn to music from a young age, studying the piano and French horn and practicing singing and songwriting. After graduating from high school, she received a scholarship to Syracuse University, where she majored in Music Theatre Arts from 1981 until 1983. She took a break from college to perform in the Miss America circuit, having won the title of Miss Syracuse, Miss New York, and continued at the national level. She was crowned Miss America in 1984, becoming the first African American woman to win the title. After being crowned Miss America, Vanessa further pursued her career in music, releasing her debut album, "The Right Stuff," in 1988. Singles from "The Right Stuff" quickly climbed the charts; "Dreamin'" became her first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and first number-one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Her most successful single, "Save the Best for Last," was released on her 1991 album "The Comfort Zone" and reached the number-one spot in the United States, where it remained for five weeks. She has since released seven pop, R&B, and Christmas-themed studio albums, including "The Sweetest Days" in 1994, "Silver & Gold" in 2004, and "The Real Thing" in 2009. Her title track from the 2009 album "The Real Thing" peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart.
In addition to singing and songwriting, Vanessa is well known for her roles on television and in theatre and films. Her first theatrical performance was in the 1994 Broadway production "Kiss of the Spider Woman."
In 2013, Vanessa was cast as Jessie Mae Watts in Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful," based on the 1985 film of the same name. Her most prominent television roles in recent years include Renee Perry on ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "666 Park Avenue." She also co-starred with America Ferrera on ABC's "Ugly Betty," for which she was nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series.
She won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture in 1997 for her role in the film "Soul Food." She has since starred in two independent films: "My Brother," for which she won Best Actress honors at the Harlem International, and "And Then Came Love." Vanessa has four children: Melanie, Jillian, Devin, and Sasha.