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History Tidbit

History Tidbit: Vanessa L. Williams

A couple of days ago, Nina Davuluri (Miss New York), made history when she became the first Indian-American to be crowned as Miss America. Aaaaaand… cue in the Americans who are up in arms against her winning. From attacking her skin color/tone, to accusing her of not being an American (she is an American by the way) or her being a Muslim (nothing wrong about being a Muslim in the first place, but she is not), to stating that she is Arab (she is of Indian descent). Yeah, welcome to the land of the free.

This somehow reminded me of another first. That time Miss America crowned its first African-American, Vanessa Williams. Nude Penthouse photos scandal notwithstanding, she has evolved from being a scandal ridden beauty queen to a singer/actress to a brand name.

Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams

Did you know that…

  • she was born on March 18, 1963, in Bronx, New York
  • her full name is Vanessa Lynn Williams but she is professionally known as Vanessa L. Williams or Vanessa Williams
  • she was one of 12 who gained entry into the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but decided to attend Syracuse University in New York instead
  • during her freshman year, she worked as a receptionist and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel
  • she posed nude for two sessions with Tom Chiapel and another session with a different photographer in New York but wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of this third session so she asked for the negatives and thought that they were destroyed
  • she was the first African-American woman crowned as Miss America on September 17, 1983
  • after Penthouse published nude photos of her (the same photos taken by Chiapel which were unauthorized for publication), she was asked to resign her post by the Miss America pageant board
  • she married Ramon Hervey II in 1987 but ended their marriage in 1997
  • she was later married to basketball star Rick Fox in 1999 but they divorced in 2004
  • she has three children with Hervey: Melanie, Jillian and Devin; and one child with Fox: Sasha Gabriella
  • Ramon Hervey II is a public relations expert who helped Williams clear her not too wholesome image, land her a role in the film The Pick Up Artist (starring Molly Ringwald, Robert Downey, Jr.,Dennis Hopper), sign a recording contract with PolyGram, and support her through the release of her album, The Right Stuff (1988)
  • she received 16 Grammy nominations for her music career
  • she appeared in advertisements for RadioShack, is a spokesmodel for Proactiv Solution, is the first African-American spokesmodel for L’Oréal cosmetics, had multiple endorsements for Crest, Disneyland, and Universal Studios
  • she appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2000 as a contestant, on August 10, 2009, as a celebrity guest during the show’s 10th anniversary prime-time special editions, winning $50,000 for her charity

Her music career timeline (notable milestones)…

  • 1988 – The Right Stuff went gold, had three singles (“The Right Stuff,” “He’s Got the Look” and “Dreamin”) in the top 10. It won her the title of Best New Female Artist award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and three Grammy award nominations.
  • 1991 – The Comfort Zone, sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S., eventually went triple platinum and earned her five Grammy nominations. The single “Save the Best for Last” spent five weeks at No. 1 on the pop charts, as well as No. 1 in Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada, and was in the top 5 in Japan, Ireland and the United Kingdom. This is her most successful single to date.
  • 1993 – song duet with R&B star Brian McKnight, “Love Is”, spent three weeks at No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts
  • 1994 – The Sweetest Days, went platinum in the US and garnered two Grammy nominations
  • 1995 – sang a rendition of “Colors of the Wind,” for Disney’s Pocohontas animated film with earned Williams another Grammy nomination

Her acting career timeline (notable milestones)…

  • 1984 – (tv) “The Love Boat” as herself, this is Williams’ first television appearance
  • 1991 – (film) “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man” as Lulu Daniels
  • 1994 – (Broadway) “Kiss of the Spider Woman” as Aurora

  • 1996 – (film) “Eraser” with Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • 1997 – (film) “Soul Food” as Teri, her most prominent role for which she won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture
  • 1998 – (film) “Dance with Me” with Chayanne
  • 2002 – (Broadway) Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” as the witch
  • 2006 – (tv) “Ugly Betty” as Wilhelmina Slater, which resulted in a nomination for outstanding supporting actress at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards
  • 2007 – (film)  “My Brother” as L’Tisha Morton, for which she won Best Actress honors at the Harlem International Film Festival, the African-American Women in Cinema Film Festival and at the Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Festival
  • 2007 – (film) “And Then Came Love” as Julie Davidson
  • 2009 – (film) “Hannah Montana: The Movie” alongside Miley Cyrus
  • 2010 – (tv) “Desperate Housewives” season 7 as Renee Perry
  • 2012 – (tv) “666 Park Avenue” as Olivia Doran

sources: NYTimesLATimes, BuzzfeedWikipediaBio

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