By Michael Daniels
Journal Staff Writer
On March 5, 2022, at 8:00 pm, the extraordinary singer and actress Vanessa Williams will make her historic Valentine Theater debut here in Toledo for their Annual Funding Gala Concert. She will share the stage with Sirius XM Broadway host, Seth Rudetsky. Mr. Rudetsky, who is a Broadway legend, in his own right, has his own solo touring show besides his successful radio programs.
Regarding her appearance this weekend, Ms. Williams said, “I hope people will enjoy the show. Seth and I have not worked together for a few years, and I’m curious to see what we come up with. It’s going to be very impromptu and not scripted, and I’m sure that people who have a passion for live theater are going to love it.”
You can also expect Ms. Williams to sing an array of her hit songs, including the popular, ‘Save The Best for Last.’
Ms. Williams grew up in a musical environment and knew from a young age she wanted to be a performer. At one time, both her parents were music teachers. And so it was, she sang and danced her way through her life all the way to the Miss America pageant in 1983 in Atlantic City. This was no big surprise to her; she was not conceited, but she was well aware of her talent. It was her talent that had brought her here, not her dreams. She had not been one of the little girls who grew up dreaming that one day she’d be Miss America.
In fact, she already had plans to go to London after the pageant was over. Well for us, who remember him, it was like Gomer Pyle was standing backstage shouting out his signature phrase, “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise, she won! Win she did and big-time it was, at only 20 years old, Vanessa Williams made American history by becoming the first African-American woman to ever be crowned Miss America. It was truly a new day in the land!
As the first African-American Miss America, her engagement schedule doubled, everybody wanted to meet her. Organizations such as the NAACP, The Urban Leagues, and other groups suddenly took an interest in The Miss America Pageant like never before. This was for a good reason; Her triumphant win was something to celebrate and to be recognized. As the year proceeded on, all things were going well and everyone was fine until the last month of her reign. Suddenly, some artistic nude photos of her materialized in a men’s magazine. The Miss America Pageant Officials swiftly demanded her resignation immediately! Without a fight, she complied with the pageant’s request, but privately she kept right ongoing. “I never stopped working,” said Ms. William, “I did an off-Broadway show, television shows, and some recordings. I continued to get offers and the chance to prove my talent again and again. I also had a really supportive team and my family behind me.”
In time after all the dust had settled, just like a phoenix or a bright and beautiful sunrise in the east on a crisp and clear morning, she rose again. This was due to her own determination, and once again the absolute talent that had served her so well, and enabled her to overcome this minor obstetrical as she continued on her way in her life’s journey.
She is a lady, who was driven to succeed, and she was not going to let a single incident define her charter or the talented woman she was inside. She had something to prove to the world, and she proceeded to do just that! In 1988, she busted onto the music scene with the release of her first hit album, ‘The Right Stuff’, and with the success of that, her singing career was off and running. She also snagged some excellent acting roles in the movies, the stage, and television. How can we ever forget TV’s Diva of Divas Wilhelmina Slater from the Ugly Betty show, or the character Teri in Soul Food, and the list of acting roles keep on coming and coming.
As time went by, after winning and being nominated for countless awards, on March 19, 2007, she received her well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. To top things off, on September 14, 2015, the CEO of The Miss America Pageant publicly apologized to her on national television and restored her title. She was Miss America again, and rightfully so.
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring youth, she replied, “I don’t give advice, but I try to lead by example and show others what has worked for me. Everyone has their own path that they are creating. The bottom line is that you are in charge of yourself, and you are the pilot in your plane. You make the decisions and decide to go where you want to go. Do your homework, ask for helpful people to come into your life, and seek out people who will be there for you as a mentor. You should always be open to what you might not know in terms of help. You might think you have a solid plan that is all mapped out exactly the way you want, and that you can control every aspect of it. Nonetheless, life is funny, and you don’t know where you’ll end up. You must be willing to take chances in life and dare to be different.”
When asked this final question, “Are you happy and satisfied with your life today”, she answers with a resounding yes! Ms. Williams said, “I’m happy to be alive, and I’m happy to be surrounded by family, friends, and opportunity. I cherish each day because you never know what’s going to come around the corner next. Obviously, as we are getting through this pandemic, we’ve seen so much unexpected change, and we see that the world can change in a moment. So, I’m happy to be alive, healthy, and in the game, and I’m looking forward to the future.”
In the immediate future, Ms. Williams has several upcoming singing engagements, plus a Broadway comedy in the works. She also wants to add the title of producer to her list of credits. But of all these things, what makes her the most excited about these days is the fact that now she is a brand-new grandmother. In her life, Ms. Williams said, “I never sought out fame.” She herself may have never chased fame, but it was not in her hands, it was solely in the hands of her awesome talent that produced that result!