Thursday, September 22, 2011

September 22: R&B singer Vesta Williams died on this date in 2011...

... she was 53-years-old when she passed away.

Vesta Williams - sometimes simply billed as Vesta - was considered a diva known for her powerful voice and 80's hits. Although she never had any albums certified gold nor any Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, she scored six Top 10 hits on the US Billboard R&B chart from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s. Williams was known for the hits, "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," "Sweet Sweet Love," "Congratulations" and "Special."
Mary Vesta Williams was born in Coshocton, Ohio, the daughter of a disc jockey. she started singing in high school. Her family moved from Ohio to Los Angeles in the 1960s, and Vesta and her sisters once appeared on the television show Jack and Jill as The Williams Sisters.

She returned to Ohio in 1977, and sang in the girl group Wild Honey - arranged by Former Fifth Dimension member Ron Townson - but ended up returning to Los Angeles to launch a solo career. Williams found work as a session musician, working with artists such as Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Stephanie Mills, and Gordon Lightfoot. Williams sang on the original version of Joe Sample's "The Survivor," and met producer David Crawford while working with his group Klique.

She eventually secured a recording contract with A&M Records which released her debut album Vesta in 1986. The album became a modest seller on the R&B Albums Chart and it featured her first Top 10 R&B hit "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," which also became her only UK hit.

In 1988, her second album, Vesta 4 U, produced the Top 10 R&B hits "Sweet Sweet Love," "4 U," and "Congratulations," with the latter peaking at #55 on the Hot 100 chart, her only single to appear in that chart. This would also be her most successful album, and her only album to appear on the US Billboard 200, peaking at #131.

In 1991, Williams released her third album entitled Special, and the title track as a single. That single became her highest charting song on the R&B chart at #2, but sales of the album were less than that of Vesta 4 U. Her next album, 1993's Everything-N-More, produced only the minor R&B hit "Always."

In 1989, Polygram Records purchased A&M Records. Williams' 1998 album Relationships was released under the Polygram name, and it became a modest seller and appeared on the R&B chart. After this album, A&M/Polygram Records parted ways with her. She continued to be a session singer, landing spots on albums by such artists as Phil Perry, Howard Hewett, and George Duke.
In 2000, Polygram released a compilation album, featuring songs from Williams and CeCe Peniston, another Polygram artist.

In 2007, Williams released an album of R&B songs on Shanachie Records entitled Distant Lover. Produced by Chris "Big Dog" Davis, it featured songs originally recorded by Bill Withers, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Sade, and Deniece Williams.

Williams portrayed a saloon singer in the 1993 film Posse, directed by Mario Van Peebles. She also had a hit with the SWV song, "Rain," with the smooth jazz musician, Norman Brown.

In the 1990s, Williams underwent a dramatic weight loss. She told Ebony magazine that she started to rapidly gain weight when her singing career began to falter. Williams, who was 5-foot-3, eventually reached a size 26. She said her size was the reason she lost her recording contract.

The singer lost 100 lbs, and got down down to a size 6, while finding something of a second career as a songwriter and session singer.

In recent years, Williams had become an advocate for the prevention of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes.

On September 22, 2011, Vesta was found dead in a hotel room in El Segundo, California, south of Los Angeles. An
official cause of death has not been released.

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