A powerful singer and underrated songwriter, Vesta Williams released a number of quality singles and albums during the late 80s and early 90s, and was been one of the most sought-after session vocalists of her time.
Born in Coshocton, Ohio, Vesta moved to California as a child and performed in a family act with her sisters in the Los Angeles area. After high school she moved back to Ohio and joined the group Wild Honey, formed by Ron Townsend of the 5th Dimension (who was Williams' cousin). Williams' big voice and impressive tone were similar to Chaka Khan, and she was soon developing a solid career as a jingle singer as well as a backing vocalist for singers ranging from Gladys Knight to Sting to Anita Baker. Ironically, by the 1980s she was touring with Khan as a backup singer.
Vesta's increasing notoriety in the music industry led to a meeting with producer David Crawford, who assisted in landing her a contract with A&M Records. Her debut album, Vesta, was produced by Crawford, Gary Taylor and others and included the hit "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," which hit the R&B top ten. Williams assumed a greater role in the creation of her 1988 follow-up, Vesta 4 U, and the results were notable. The excellent disc included two top five hits, "Sweet Sweet Love" and the beautiful ballad "Congratulations," which became a signature song for Vesta and a Quiet Storm staple.
Williams continued her ascension in 1991 with the album Special and the hit title track, both of which became her biggest charters. Unfortunately, she stumbled two years later with Everything-N-More, a lesser album that eschewed her adult soul roots for a more contemporary sound. It stiffed on the charts and nearly stopped her solo recording career in its tracks. Fortunately, Vesta continued to be a popular session singer, landing regular spots on albums by such artists as Phil Perry, Howard Hewett and George Duke.
Disappointed with the results of Everything-N-More, Vesta left A&M in search of a new recording contract. It took nearly five years before she released her next album, Relationships, on Lee Ritenour's IE Records. It was a mature album that appealed to adult soul fans but didn't received sufficient airplay to garner any hits.
As the 21st Century came, Vesta continued to work regularly as a session vocalist, particularly on jazz albums, and her song "One More Bridge To Cross" was arguably the highlight of the popular 2005 compilation Love Pages by the Cafe Soul All-Stars. She also occasionally worked in radio and toured in multi-artist smooth jazz shows.
In 2007, Vesta signed with Shanachie Records and released Distant Lover, an album of soul music cover songs.
On September 22, 2011, Vesta died in her hotel room in Los Angeles. It was a tragic and much-too-early death of a talented singer.
Though her time as a major recording artist was relatively brief, Vesta Williams impacted the soul music world for over two decades. Both via her own solo work as well as through her impressive appearances on the albums of other artists, Vesta made a career's worth of notable music and was consistently among the most distinctive singers of her era. She will be missed.
by Chris Rizik
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