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Vanessa L. Williams
*Vanessa Williams was born on this date in 1963. She is a Black singer, actress, and fashion designer.
Vanessa Lynn Williams was born in The Bronx, New York. Her paternal great-great-grandfather was William A. Feilds, a Black legislator in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Her maternal great-great-grandfather, David Carll, served in the 26th United States Colored Infantry in the American Civil War.
Her mother, Helen Tinch, met her father, Milton Augustine Williams Jr., while both were music education students at Fredonia State Teachers College in the late 1950s. They became elementary school music teachers after marriage, though their teaching positions were in separate districts. Williams and her younger brother Chris grew up in Westchester County, a predominantly white middle-to-upper-class suburb of New York City.
A child of music teachers, Williams grew up in a musical household, studying classical and jazz dance, French horn, piano, and violin. She was offered the Presidential Scholarship for Drama to attend Carnegie Mellon University but decided instead to attend Syracuse University on a different scholarship. Thus, in 1981, Williams joined Syracuse's College of Visual and Performing Arts, Department of Drama as a musical theater major. She stayed at Syracuse through her second year until she was crowned Miss America 1984. In May 2008, Syracuse granted Williams a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. According to Syracuse News, "Williams earned the remaining credits for her degree through industry experience and her substantial performances on stage and screen." Williams also delivered the 2008 convocation address, telling Syracuse seniors to "treasure this moment. These days are irreplaceable and are the beginning of the rest of your life."
She gained recognition as the first Black woman to receive the Miss America title when she was crowned Miss America in 1984. However, a scandal arose the following year when, a few weeks before the end of her reign, Williams learned that Penthouse magazine would be publishing now "iconic" unauthorized nude photographs of her in an upcoming issue. Amid growing media controversy and scrutiny, Williams resigned as Miss America in July 1984. Thirty-two years later, Miss America CEO Sam Haskell offered her a public apology (during the Miss America 2016 pageant) for the events of 1984.
Williams rebounded from the issue with a successful career as a singer and actress. In 1988, she released her debut studio album, The Right Stuff, whose title single saw moderate success before "Dreamin'" peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the United States in 1989. With her second and third studio albums, The Comfort Zone (1991) and The Sweetest Days (1994), she saw continued commercial success and received multiple Grammy Award nominations; this included her number-one hit (in early 1992) and signature song, "Save the Best for Last," which she performed live at the 1993 Grammy Awards ceremonies. Her later studio albums include Everlasting Love (2005) and The Real Thing (2009).
As an actress, Williams, on both stage and screen, has received an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for portraying Teri Joseph in the film Soul Food (1997). Her best-known television roles are that of Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty (2006–10), for which she was nominated three times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, and Renee Perry on Desperate Housewives (2010–12). Williams has been married three times. She married her first husband, Ramon Hervey II, in 1987. They have three children (Melanie, Jillian, and Devin who divorced in 1997. She then married pro basketball player Rick Fox in 1999. They have one daughter, Sasha Gabriella Fox, and they divorced in 2004. In 2015, Williams married Jim Skrip. In 2016, Williams launched her clothing line, V., by Vanessa Williams.