The Kennedy Center

Vanessa Renee Williams


Vanessa Renee Williams, a resident of Washington, D.C., was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is the very proud mother of one daughter, Lisa.

Although Vanessa began singing at Bethlehem Baptist Church in SE Washington, D.C. in 1972, she never actively pursued formal musical training, let alone a singing career.  

A professional painter and illustrator, she admits, "Singing was simply something I liked to do.” From the time I was in kindergarten at Abram Simon Elementary, all I really wanted to do was draw and paint." Attitude Exact Gallery in Washington, D.C. has been the home of her works on paper for over a decade. 

On career path in the visual arts, Williams was encouraged to continue her studies by teacher, print maker and calligrapher, Laurie Siegel. Upon graduation from The Academy of Notre Dame in 1978, Williams was accepted at Howard University's College of Fine Arts. She was instructed at Howard by some of the most noted artists in the country, including the late Lucille Malkia Roberts and Jeff Donaldson, Starmanda Bullock, Alfred J. Smith, Tritobia Benjamin, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, Lila O. Asher, E.H. Sorrells-Adewale, A. Michael Auld, and Raymond Dobard. She earned a B.F.A. degree in 1982. 

As an elementary Art teacher at Patricia Roberts Harris Educational Center in Southeast Washington from 1987 until 2002, Williams served at the school as Key Communicator for the D.C. Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative "Art for Every Student" Program, and co-coordinator for the nationally acclaimed "Best Friends,” a character-building based youth development program for adolescent girls.

Her path to the Gospel music industry began at the close of the 1994 school year. Williams received a phone call from soprano Darlene Simmons, concerning a role as a pit singer in a local production of Bubbling Brown Sugar, produced by Helen Hayes Award winner, the late Mike Malone, under the musical direction of Raymond Reeder. Not long after, a call came from Smallwood himself, which she initially thought was a practical joke. Williams moved, with ease, between concert dates as a group member with Smallwood, and, until October of 2000, an outstanding trio with Adams that included Grammy winning writer/producer Raymond Reeder, and stellar soprano Victoria Purcell. She traveled with "The Richard Smallwood Singers” across the United States and on her very first trips out of the country from Norway to Guadeloupe, Paris to Venezuela, until the ensemble "Vision" was formed in 1996.  In any conversation concerning music ministry, she quickly honors Gospel music's living legend Richard Smallwood, and the phenomenal Yolanda Adams.   As a member of Smallwood’s "Vision,” Vanessa recorded the breathtaking "Angels" with Maurette Brown-Clark, "O, What a Night" with Darlene Simmons, the Dove Award nominated anthem “Holy Thou Art God,” "Oh, How He Loves You and Me,” "Your Love Divine" and "I Love The Lord" on "Verity: Live at The Apollo.” Williams sang background vocals on Karen Clark Sheard’s "The Heavens Are Telling,” "Yolanda Adams: Live In Washington,” the Canton Spirituals’ "Living the Dream: Live In Washington,” "A Tribute to Rosa Parks,” and the Grammy award winning "Mountain High, Valley Low” single, "Fragile Heart.” She can also be heard on "Love So Real,” the first independent release by John Stoddart, "Megachurch Gospel,” "Ready" with Mike McCoy and Voices United, "Eternity" by saxophonist Skip Pruitt, "Not To Us" by Drexel University’s Gospel Choir, Kim Waters' "All for Love,” Anthony Walker's "Love Calling,” the Shanachie compilation "Touch Me In the Morning,” Rev. Nolan Williams’ "InSpiration,” and the 2006 releases by D.C.’s own El Shaddai, and jazz artist Maysa Leak. She is also featured on the recently released "Jimmy Russell and BOC Live,” John Bucky Tillery's Stellar Award nominated "The Next Level,” "Continue to Continue" the 2008 release from Mike McCoy and Voices United, WHUR's "Soul of the Holidays" DVD/CD, and the 2009 release of "The Alaskan Project" produced by Norris Garner. She is also featured on the soon to be released live projects by Detroit's Straight Gate International Church Mass Choir, and the Mass Choir of Suitland, Maryland's Hunter Memorial AME Zion Church.

There was a phenomenal roster of producers on her first CD "Vanessa" which debuted at number 7 and peaked at number 10 on Billboard's Gospel Chart. Minister Steven Ford, Bishop Andrew Merritt, Richard Smallwood, Kevin Bond, Paul Allen, J. Moss, and Fred Hammond all blessed Williams with their assistance.   She teamed up with Ford and PAJAM (Paul D. Allen and J. Moss) once more, in addition to Noel Hall and Luther "Mano" Hanes on her sophomore release, "Here I Go Again.”

Williams proudly participated in the 1996 "Federation Francaise de Gospel/Best of Gospel on Tour" in Paris and Strasbourg, France, the "Barbados World Gospel" in 1997, the 1998 "Amerique: Gospel Cite de la Musique" in Paris, France, the "Umbria Jazz Gospel and Soul" Festivals 1 and 2 in Terni, Italy in 1997 and 1998, the Glaxo Wellcome "Living Proof" Gospel tour in 1999, the Daimler Chrysler “Shout 2000” tour, The Alliance Tour in 2002, featuring Karen Clark Sheard, Donald Lawrence, Richard Smallwood, Ted and Sheri, and Maurette Brown Clark, McDonalds' Gospelfest 2005, the 2007 Parks-King Lecture Series at Yale University, the Kingdom Powerful 2007 European Believers' Conference in Abano Terme, Italy, Coro Gospel Agua Viva featuring the Madrid Gospel Choir at the 2008 Expo Zaragoza/World's Fair in Zaragoza, Spain, the 2008 Novara Gospel Festival in Novara, Italy, and the 2009 and 2010 Real Women's Conference at JWOC in Heidelberg, Germany.

Williams is currently compiling a book of her art and poetry entitled “Free Indeed,” and has partnered as a consultant with artist JoAnne Henson’s “Henson Arts” to present “Artsong Storysing,” a program designed to bring storytelling, basic visual art concepts, and group singing to school aged children.

Vanessa Renee Williams