Born Deniece Chandler on June 3, 1951 in Gary, Indiana, Williams is a gospel/soul singer whose successes span the 70s and 80s. As a child she sang in a gospel choir and made her first recordings in the late 60s for the Chicago-based Toddlin' Town label. Deniece grew up singing in a penacostal church, which was strict on the congregation listening only to Gospel music. During the late sixties, she was a candy-striper in a Chicago hospital. Outside of wanting a 1959 Thunderbird, she had no serious ambitions. Nontheless, she still had interest in listening to music. Her favorites were Carmen McCrae for her diction and Nancy Wilson, who, for Williams, exemplified class and elegance. However, her mother, also a singer, was her idol. The Gary, IN native was also fond of Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, Minnie Riperton and Patti LaBelle. (The latter two she tried to emulate before her introduction into the music industry.)
In need of employment and with college on the back-burner, the fledgling singer was introduced to Stevie Wonder by her cousin (John Harris) from Detroit, who happened to be on tour as a valet for Wonder (and was also his childhood friend). Her cousin arranged for Williams to meet Wonder backstage at a concert. Six months later, the gifted vocalist was flown into Detroit by Wonder for an audition. Among the 26 who auditioned, Williams, who sang 'Teach Me Tonight', was only one of three who was hired by Wonder. The three became known as Wonderlove.
Williams being hired by Wonder was a big surprise. Soon after the audition, she toured with Wonder who was the opening act for the Rolling Stones at the time. Her touring with Stevie Wonder lasted for several years. Though her stint with Wonder was a great experience and opportunity, it was also difficult considering Willaims had to make many adjustments professionally and personally (she had two sons prior to taking the gig: 4 month-old and 18 month-old).
In 1975, Williams provided background vocals for Minnie Riperton's classic 'Perfect Angel' album (mainly produced by Stevie Wonder), and then left Wonderlove that same year. Later, Deniece teamed up with producers Maurice White and Charles Stepney, the creative leaders of Earth, Wind & Fire. Under White's direction, Williams learned the business of music and was able to unwind and express herself musically. Under the Columbia banner, Williams released her first album entitled 'This Is Niecy' (produced by White & Stepney) in 1976. It featured the Billboard R&B number two single 'Free', which also hit the Top 25 on the pop charts. This 'signature' song (later covered by Will Downing in the 1980's!!) was personal to Williams, who felt restricted while with Wonderlove. The album also featured many EWF players and the songs 'Cause You Love Me Baby' and 'That's What Friends Are For' (which Williams later sang as a duet with Johnny Mathis). Also in 1976, Williams rejoined Riperton & Wonder on his landmark album 'Songs in The Key Of Life' (a Grammy winner!!).
An early UK video.
In 1977 the album 'Song Bird' was released, and it featured the number 13 single "Baby, Baby My Love's All for You". The following year the dynamic singer recorded an entire album with Johnny Mathis, 'That's What Friends are For' (recently remastered & expanded with 4 bonus tracks in 2003!), and scored her first number one song on both the R&B and pop charts with the duet 'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late'. The follow-up single, 'You're All Need to Get By', was also recorded with Mathis and it was a Top Ten single.
Still under Maurice White's tutelage, Williams moved over to his new American Recording Company (ARC) label and released the album 'When Love Comes Calling' in 1979 (containing the disco hit "I've Got The Next Dance"), and a few more releases before scoring the smash hit 'Silly' (from 1981's 'Niecy' album). Written by Williams and produced by famed producer Thom Bell, she sang this song from her own personal experience as well. The single became a Top Ten gem, and later Bell returned the sweet songstress to the top of the charts with 'It's Gonna Take a Miracle'. Another remake, 'I'm So Proud' was also a hit released from Niecy's 1982 album, 'I'm So Proud' (also on Columbia).
Always writing from her own experience, Williams wrote the Top Ten single 'Do What You Feel' (also from 'I'm So Proud'!) based on the ordeals of someone else. (A believer in the song at the time, she no longer employs those beliefs). Niecy's angelic vocals also graced TV in 1982 on another duet with Johnny Mathis titled 'Without Us' (now a bonus track on the 2003 edition of 'That's What Friends Are For'), which was the theme song for the hit sitcom 'Family Ties'. In 1983, Deniece joined her friend Philip Bailey (of EWF) on a nice duet, 'It's Our Time', which is on his rare solo album titled 'Continuation'. The next year Williams conquered the pop charts with the number one hit 'Let's Hear It for the Boy'. Featured on the 'Footloose' soundtrack, the single was produced by music virtuoso George Duke, who initially thought the song was too pop-ish and would not work, but the song was such a HUGE hit that Niecy was the musical guest on TV's 'Saturday Night Live'. Duke's production savvy proved to be as paramount as Williams' vocals, so 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' would also be the title of Niecy's album in 1984.
In 1984, the sensational singer recorded 'Black Butterfly' (also on '...For The Boy'). From a African American perspective, Williams immediately bonded with the song. The song would become a prelude to the uplifting Gospel material Williams would record a few years later. With her label (Columbia) uninterested, Williams released the Gospel album 'From the Beginning' on Sparrow Records in 1986. The album featured the Grammy-award winning single 'They Say'. Also in 1986, Deniece provided background vocals for Howard Hewett's classic anthem 'Say Amen'. While on a hot streak in '86, Williams also won a Grammy Award for 'I Surrender All' and then another for 'I Believe in You' in 1987.
While Deniece continued releasing secular albums like 'Hot On The Trail' (1986), 'Water Under The Bridge' (which featured her final hit song 'Never Say Never' in 1987), and 'As Good As It Gets' (1988), her mainstream popularity faded (partly due to a lack of record promotion by Columbia/CBS!!), so she concentrated on her 1st love, Gospel music!! Never a big fan of touring, Deniece Williams remains a home body. She enjoys the creative side of music (writing and singing), her family (four boys) and her home. On occasion she may sing on her friend's CDs (w/ Johnny Mathis in 1988, Nancy Wilson in 1990, George Duke in 1992, Stevie Wonder in 1995, and with Paul Jackson Jr. in 2001!!) or make public appearances at Gospel music events, but don't expect Niecy to worry about 'the charts' anymore. Her rightful place with religious songs & in music history is secure!!
Deniece Williams performing "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late"
Deniece Williams performing "It's Gonna Take A Miracle"
Deniece Williams performing "Silly"