Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams

Award Winning Singer, Actress, and Beloved American Icon

Speaker Categories: Women Speakers Headliners | Women Speakers in Achievement & Motivation | Celebrity/Headliner- Entertainment | Actors/Entertainers | Women Speakers in the Arts, Entertainment & the Humanities | Women, Children & Family Speakers

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Award Winning Singer, Actress, and Beloved American Icon

Vanessa Williams is one of the most respected and multi-faceted performers in entertainment today, amassing one great accomplishment after another. She first achieved recognition as the first black Miss America in 1984, but was forced to resign following a scandal that followed. But she fought to survive and bounced back with a successful career as a singer and actress. She has conquered the musical charts, Broadway, music videos, television, and motion pictures, selling millions of albums worldwide and achieving critical acclaim as an actress on stage, in film, and on television. As a devoted mother of four who balances family life with the demands of her entertainment career, Vanessa showcases strength, determination, grace, and dignity to women who face adversity while pursuing dreams.

Singer

Vanessa Williams had already shown her musical talent in the Miss America pageant with her rendition of “Happy Days Are Here Again”, but it was four years later in 1988 that she released her debut album, “The Right Stuff.” Her first singles, “The Right Stuff” and “He's Got the Look”, found success on the R&B chart, while her third, “Dreamin'”, was a pop hit, becoming Vanessa's first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and first number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. This album reached platinum status in the U.S. and earned Vanessa a NAACP Image Award and three Grammy Award nominations, including one for Best New Artist. Her second album, “The Comfort Zone”, was the most successful of her career, with the lead single "Running Back to You" reaching top twenty on the Hot 100 and the top position of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Her most successful single from this album, and her biggest hit to date, was “Save the Best For Last”, which reached No. 1 in the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada, and was in the top 5 in Japan, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The album sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S. at its time of release and has since been certified triple platinum in the United States by the RIAA, gold in Canada by the CRIA, and platinum in the United Kingdom by the BPI. It earned Williams five Grammy Award nominations. Her third album, “The Sweetest Days”, has enjoyed similar acclaim, seeing Vanessa branch out into other styles of music such as jazz, hip-hop, rock, and Latin-themed recordings. It was certified platinum in the U.S. by the RIAA and won her two Grammy Award nominations. Other notable releases from television and film include “Love Is”, a duet with Brian McKnight, the Golden Globe and Academy Award-winning “Colors of the Wind”, "Where Do We Go from Here?", and "Oh How the Years Go By".

Television & Film

Vannesa's role on television has been similarly impressive, first appearing on a 1984 episode of “The Love Boat” followed by several guest appearances on other popular shows. In 1995, Williams starred as Rose Alvarez in a television adaptation of the 1960 Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie” and portrayed the nymph Calypso in the 1997 Hallmark Entertainment miniseries “The Odyssey.” In 2001, Williams starred in the Lifetime cable movie about the life of Henriette DeLille, “The Courage to Love,” and read the narrative of Tempie Herndon Durham from the WPA slave narratives in the HBO documentary “Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives.” One of her most prominent and most famous roles was as Wilhelmina Slater on the ABC comedy series "Ugly Betty," for which she was nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards. She went on to join the cast of “Desperate Housewives” as Renee Perry in the seventh season, then the cast of “The Librarians” as General Rockwell. Williams has also appeared in a number of feature films. She received a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her portrayal of Teri Joseph in the 1997 feature film “Soul Food.” In 2007, she starred in the independent film "My Brother," winning Best Actress honors at the Harlem International Film Festival, the African-American Women in Cinema Film Festival, and the Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Festival. She has co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Eraser,” Samuel L. Jackson in the 2000 remake of “Shaft”, the characters from Sesame Street in “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland,” and Miley Cyrus in “Hannah Montana: The Movie.”

Theatre

Vannesa first began her Broadway career with modest roles, such as one of “the women” in “One Man Band” and as Laura in “Checkmates.” In 1994, she took Broadway by storm when she replaced Chita Rivera in "Kiss of the Spider Woman," winning the hearts of critics and becoming a box-office sensation. She also headlined a limited special engagement of the classic "Carmen Jones" at the Kennedy Center and starred in the Encore! Series staged concert production of "St. Louis Woman” as Della Green. She garnered rave reviews and was nominated for a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for the 2002 revival of "Into the Woods” as the Witch, a production which included songs revised just for her. She later starred in Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine’s "Sondheim on Sondheim," an original Broadway musical at The Roundabout Theatre. She has since starred as Jessie Mae Watts in the Horton Foote play “The Trip to Bountiful,” later turned into a 2014 television film, the Broadway musical, “After Midnight,” and in a PBS production of “Show Boat” as Julie La Verne.

You Have No Idea

Based on Vanessa's highly-anticipated first book, co-written with her mother Helen, “You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)” Vanessa recounts some of her many blunders and conflicts with her mother, including the ignored advice that could have saved her title as Miss America. But she also explains how she achieved success in spite of her mistakes and went on to enjoy over thirty years as an award-winning singer and actress. Perhaps even more importantly, she talks about how her relationship with Helen and how she stuck by and supported her daughter through thick and thin, always encouraging her to achieve her fullest. Through these lessons, Vanessa empowers her audience to embrace the unexpected, remember your self-worth, and accept your path in life – no matter how uncertain it may be.

If Opportunity Knocks, Be Sure to Answer

You can spend a lot of time making plans, but life often gets in the way, a lesson Vanessa learned firsthand. But there is another way. Instead of pressing forward and unwavering on a single goal, Vanessa inspires audiences to recognize when “opportunity unexpectedly knocks at your door” and to take that chance to step forward, even if it's out of your comfort zone, because you never know when your true calling might be right around the corner. As a former Miss America and current singer, actress, and even author, there is perhaps no better expert than Vanessa Williams on unexpected opportunities.

  • You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)
    You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) Purchase Book

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  • You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)
    You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other) Purchase Book
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