Niagara Gazette

December 26, 2013

A rare local performance from Vanessa Williams

By Thom Jennings
Night & Day

Night & Day — Vanessa Williams will forever hold the distinction of being the first African American Miss America less than 15 years after the pageant even allowed African American women to compete. That should not only be a source of pride and distinction for Ms. Williams, it should be a source of pride for the state she represented, our great state of New York.

“It’s hard to believe that it was not all that long ago that no African Americans had won the Miss America pageant,” Williams noted last week during an exclusive phone interview.

Being the first African American Miss America was not without its hazards and Williams chronicled them in her 2012 memoir, “You Have No Idea” that she wrote along with her mother Helen. In spite of the attacks, threats and eventual forced resignation, Williams did what any trailblazer would do; she forged on.

When one writes about Williams in 2013, it’s hard to choose which label to apply. Vanessa is a former beauty queen, a successful actor in television, movies and on Broadway, a bestselling author, activist and multi-platinum selling multiple Grammy nominated singer.

On Saturday, Williams will be at the Seneca Niagara Casino for a headlining performance singing songs from her multi-platinum albums. The last time Williams performed in the area was Oct. 4, 1997, with Luther Vandross at the Marine Midland Arena, now called First Niagara Center.

“I’ll be coming back to town with essentially the same band that I performed with in 1997.”

There will be one notable addition to the group, her daughter Jillian Hervey, an emerging singer with a promising career, will be singing background vocals.

Williams’ entrance onto the pop music charts occurred in 1988 with her first hit single “Dreamin’” from her debut album, “The Right Stuff.” The album was certified Gold, putting pressure on Williams to avoid the “sophomore jinx” many music artists face when releasing a successful debut album.

Not only did Williams avoid the jinx, she followed up “The Right Stuff” with the Triple Platinum selling album entitled “The Comfort Zone,” which included “Save the Best for Last,” an international hit that spent five weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

“That is a song that still really resonates with people. I love being able to sing it every night and hearing the stories from people about the first time they heard it and what it meant in their lives. I am very fortunate to have some great songs to sing but that one is really special.”

Williams continued to crank out the hits throughout the 1990s with three more albums, “The Sweetest Days”, “Star Bright”, and “Next.” She released three more excellent albums at the turn of the century, her last being “The Real Thing” in 2009.

Fans of Vanessa Williams’ music will hear plenty of hits from her recording career, and maybe even a few holiday classics as well.

It will be a homecoming of sorts for Williams, whose mother Helen grew up in Buffalo. Williams is also dating a man from Depew.

“When I get there I am sure the beef on weck and chicken wings will be waiting,” she joked.

Tickets for Vanessa Williams at the Seneca Niagara Casino start at $60 and are available through Ticketmaster or at the Seneca Niagara Casino box office.

Thom Jennings covers the local music scene for Night and Day.