Born June Deniece Chandler (birthdate June 3, 1950) known by her stage name, Deniece Williams is an American Grammy Award-winning singer,songwriter and record producer who achieved success in the 1970s and 1980s. Ms. Williams, whose music has been influenced by Soul and Funk, is known for her hits such as “Free”, “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”, and for her many vocal duets with Johnny Mathis.
Before entering into the music industry, Deniece attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland in the hopes of becoming a registered nurse and an anesthetist. During that time she performed on the side.“I got a part-time job singing at a club, Casino Royal, and I liked it. It was a lot of fun.” During those years, she also worked at a telephone company and as a ward clerk in the Chicago Mercy Hospital. But soon she would trade in these pursuits for a life of music.
As Deniece Chandler, she recorded for The Toddlin’ Town group of labels and one of those early records, ‘I’m Walking Away’ released on Toddlin’ Town’s ‘Lock Records’ subsidiary in the late 60′s, is a favorite on England’s Northern Soul scene. As her success grew, she found herself on the fast track. One thing led to another and Deniece became a backup vocalist for Stevie Wonder as part of “Wonderlove.” in the early 1970s. It was an exciting time and she experienced many things on her journey. In 1975, Deniece decided to venture forward, leaving Stevie Wonder and signing with Columbia Records. She then teamed up with two famed producers: Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and his frequent collaborator, Charles Stepney. Her 1976 debut album entitled This Is Niecy was released. The single “Free” reached #2 on the Black Singles chart, #25 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #1 on the British Singles chart. The album also featured “Cause You Love Me Baby” (which charted separately on the R&B chart as the flip side of “Free”) and “That’s What Friends Are For”. She also shared a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with pop singer Johnny Mathis in 1978 with the duet “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”. The duet also topped the Black Singles and Adult Contemporary charts. Williams also topped the dance charts with her disco single “I’ve Got the Next Dance”. Mathis and Williams also recorded the popular theme to the 1980s sitcom Family Ties, “Without Us”.
Williams moved on to the American Recording Company (ARC) in the early 1980s where she scored the top ten R&B smash hit “Silly” in 1981. The following year, yet another famed producer, Thom Bell, helped Williams score another #1 R&B chart-topper with her remake of The Royalettes’ “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle,” which became a Top 10 pop hit as well, reaching #10.
In 1984, Deniece released the album Let’s Hear It for the Boy, in which the title track reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was featured on the soundtrack to Footloose. The song would prove to be the biggest pop hit of her career – and the last. She also contributed vocals, along with Maurice White, to the song “And Then” from Weather Report’s album Mr. Gone released in 1982. She continued releasing albums during the 1980s such as Hot On The Trail (1986), Water Under The Bridge (1987), and As Good As It Gets (1988), which featured her last Top Ten hit to date, “I Can’t Wait”, written by Skylark.
Although Deniece had recorded one inspirational song on almost each of her albums, it was in 1980 that her musical career path began change toward one of her favorite things, Gospel music. She joined with friends Phillip Bailey (Earth, Wind and Fire fame), Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo to present a gospel show at a popular Los Angeles club named The Roxy. The show was called “Jesus At the Roxy”. Deniece felt strongly about it saying, “God did something miraculous. Over three hundred people were saved”, as reported in an interview with Gospel Today Magazine. After that, both Bailey and Williams decided to pursue careers in Christian music.
In 1983, Deniece and Bailey recorded “They Say”, an atmospheric, slow praise song that builds towards the end with rousing words of praise. The song was written by songwriters Skip Scarborough and Terri McFaddin and received airplay on both Urban and Gospel Black radio. Deniece later recorded the song with Christian artist Sandi Patti and won a Grammy for it. In 1984, Deniece sang a Gospel song at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards. She sang an acapella version of her 1977 composition “God Is Amazing”. In 1986, she would release her first full-length gospel album, “So Glad I Know” (Sparrow 1121; # 8-gospel) which brought her two Grammy awards.
Deniece would continue to write, record and release Gospel music for the next several years. From 1996 to 2004, she presented her own BBC radio show in the UK, showcasing new gospel and inspirational music. During that time (1999) she recorded the Gospel album This Is My Song, which brought her another Grammy award for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album.
Deniece continues to work on countless projects and is still quite active in the music industry today. She has an incredible four-octave range and distinctive soprano voice. Her vocal range was also pointed out by The New York Times, “Miss Williams mounted a spectacular vocal display in which her penetrating, feline soprano soared effortlessly to E flat above high C, and she worked various vowel sounds into prolonged feats of vocal gymnastics”.
In pointing to Deniece’s similar vocal ability as her former musical icon and colleague (Minnie Riperton), Mark Anthony Neal in referencing Jill Scott’s agility in displaying vocal acrobatics, states, “Scott draws on her upper register recalling the artistry of the late Minnie Riperton and “songbird” Deniece Williams”. According to Monica Haynes of Post-Gazette.com, “Williams has the kind of range that would make Mariah Carey quiver”!