The Vesta Williams Website
Though diminutive, the singer now simply known as Vesta (Mary Vesta Williams), possessed one of the biggest and brassiest voices in R&B and Contemporary Jazz. Vesta's story begins in Coshocton, Ohio (about 40 miles east of Columbus), where she was born in 1957, and she began to distinguish herself as an entertainer at an early age. As the daughter of a radio disc jockey, a young Vesta moved with her family to the Los Angeles area during the mid 1960s, and with her Sisters, appeared on the TV show 'Jack & Jill', as 'The Williams Sisters'. During her high school years, Vesta continued to sing and experimented with comedy routines. After she graduated from high school in 1970, Vesta continued to sing in addition to working full time, and she eventually moved back to Ohio in 1977. Upon returning to her home state, Vesta continued to sing with her cousin's group, Wild Honey. Vesta's Cousin, the late Ron Townsend, was a former member of the 60's & 70's supergroup '5th Dimension', and she soon gained more experience and invaluable exposure during the mid 70's. Vesta's tenure with Wild Honey, made it possible to persue a solo career, and with her passion now her profession, she became one of the industry's most sought-after studio singers. Before Vesta's debut as a solo recording artist, she paid her dues singing commercial jingles for Mcdonald's, Diet Coke, Honda and Revlon Cosmetics among others. This 'commercial recognition' eventually lead to important session work for Vesta throughout the years, where she would eventually provide background vocals for Anita Baker ('Rapture'), Jermaine Jackson ('Precious Moments'), Jeffrey Osborne ('Emotional'), Stephanie Mills ('If I Were Your Woman'), Gladys Knight ('Good Woman'), and Sting ('Nothing Like The Sun') among many others! This exposure for Vesta also prompted Chaka Khan to hire her as a vocalist during the early 1980's. It's been rumored that Vesta recorded background vocals for Chaka, but they've only worked together during live concerts. Chaka Khan is notorious for recording her own backgrounds, and since Vesta's fire was a close match, it was a no brainer to have Williams on tour.
After touring with Chaka during the early 1980's, Vesta met producer David Crawford through Joe Sample (pianist of the Jazz Crusaders), for whom she'd recorded the original vocals for 'The Survivor' in 1984. For some reason, Vesta's vocals were replaced with Phyllis Hyman's, and it was probably because MCA wanted to attach an established name with Sample's 'Oasis' album (1985).
Following her productive meeting with Crawford, Vesta soon signed a record contract with A&M Records in 1986, which resulted in four releases. With her self-titled debut, 'Vesta' (1986), Williams sang her heart out on the album's eleven songs, which were produced by Bryan Loren, Gary Taylor, and of course, David Crawford among others. Popular singles included 'Once Bitten Twice Shy' (#9 R&B in '86), 'Don't Blow A Good Thing' (#17 R&B in '87), and 'Something About You' (#46 R&B in '87). Imported Editions of 'Vesta' include a bonus track ('Suddenly It's Magic'), which also appears on the 1986 soundtrack for 'Soul Man'. 'Vesta' was popular among R&B fans, and tracks like 'It's You' & 'I'm Coming Back' (a hit remake for Lalah Hathaway in 1990!) illustrated a softer side of Williams. With marginal successful singles, Vesta's debut barely made a dent in the market (peaked at #46 R&B on Billboard), but her talents could not be denied. Vesta Williams was a musical force to be acknowledged!
Following a marginally successful debut, Vesta returned to the studio with a batch of songs penned by Attala Zane Giles, Eric Daniels, Tena Clark, Prim, Billy Osbourne, and herself. These fruitful sessions resulted in the 'Vesta 4 U' CD (1988, A&M). The first two singles 'Sweet, Sweet Love' (#4 R&B in '88) & 'Congratulations' (#5 R&B/#55 Pop in '89) received massive airplay, and Vesta's popularity soared consequently. 'Sweet, Sweet Love' was often mistaken for a new Chaka Khan song because Vesta's fiery delivery beared such a close resemblance, but it was all good in the end! A few other singles followed, and as audiences became introduced to her multi-octave voice, they also got a glimpse of her comedic talents. When asked (during an appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show in '89) if she had written 'Congratulations' based on personal experience, the songstress replied "Oh No Honey!! If that ever happened to me, I'd probably burn the church down, or something". Following spots on the popular Arsenio Hall Show & others throughout 1989, promotion for the 'Vesta 4 U' album tapered off, and the final single releases were 'For You' (#9 R&B in '89) & 'How You Feel' (#70 R&B in '89). Vesta had finally arrived in 1989, and she became a popular vocalist for jazz artists like saxophonist Najee. Najee's classic 'Tokyo Blue' (1990, EMI) CD features a stunning lead vocal by Vesta on the track 'I'll Be Good To You', which can be described as an awesome tour de force duet of Williams' intense vocals & the passionate soprano saxophone.
With a gold selling album ('Vesta 4 U'), and a few more hits under her belt, it was time for Vesta to return to the studio in 1990, and her new legion of fans couldn't be happier. Before the sessions began, Vesta decided to play it safe & retain songwriters & producers from the previous CD, and the resulting 'Special' CD (#15 R&B in '91) was a nice collection of songs. The first single ('Do Ya') was a dance track that was standard fare for the time, but second single & title track from 'Special' would become Vesta's biggest hit, peaking at #2 on Billboard's R&B Singles Chart in 1991. Vesta's third album also included more ballads, with 'I Don't Wanna Cry Anymore', 'Person To Person', and 'Where Does The Love Go ?', and 'I Promise Love' being major highlights. Vesta's vocal range was in full bloom on the many ballads, but she also included a few dance tracks ('TLC' & 'Don't Trip') for good measure. With 'Special', Vesta continued to develop as a complete artist by contributing as both a songwriter and producer. In retrospect, it can be said that Vesta built upon her best songs from the first 2 albums to create a sound & formula for future projects.
Vesta's success reached new heights in 1991 with 'Special', and suprising changes would take place when it was time for her to record the follow up titled 'Everything-n-More' (1993, A&M). Attala Zane Giles, who wrote & produced most of the songs from 'Vesta 4 U' & 'Special' didn't contribute to the new project. Instaed of Giles, Vesta was produced by Rex Silas, Brian McKnight, Marc Gordon, Michael Powell, and Chuckii Booker among others, and the resulting CD seemed like an attempt by A&M to make Vesta sound more contemporary, which was a huge mistake. 'Everything-n-More' (#65 R&B in '93) would be Vesta's final A&M project, but it did have a few bright moments, with most of them being ballads. The single, 'Always' (#44 R&B in '93) was classic Vesta with great production from Michael Powell. Another highlight is the jazzy 'Tell Me', which featured members of Fourplay (Nathan East & Harvey Mason), and was also on the sountrack CD for 'Posse'. Vesta also portrayed Vera in 'Posse' (a Mario Van Peebles film). Vera was a 'Mae West-like saloon singer' who could cuss you out, but was very caring at the same time.
Vesta parted ways with A&M shortly after 'Everything-n-More' failed to generate sufficient business, so her search for a new label would begin, and last almost 5 years. During her time as a free agent singer, Vesta remained busy singing on CDs by Gerald Albright ('Smooth'), George Duke ('Is Love Enough ?'), Howard Hewett ('It's Time'), and Christian McBride ('Family Affair').
After leaving A&M, Vesta then signed with MCA Records and actually recorded a full-length CD. The CD was scheduled for release during 1995 and MCA even included a cut from the project on one of their sampler CDs of new music back for that year. Vesta was ready to move on with an entire CD of new material, but for reasons unknown, MCA dropped her and shelved the CD. As of 2005, Vesta's recordings from 1995 remain unreleased, and will probably never see the light of day.
Following a 1997 tour with Fourplay, Vesta found a label that would be interested in her talents. Vesta - "I did the Fourplay tour, and in the interim, made some really good friends in the band. Lee Ritenour and I really hit it off, so he started calling me to work on other projects like saxophonist Eric Marienthal record 'Easy Street' (1997, Polygram). I did a cover of the Aretha Franklin tune, 'Til You Come Back To Me'. Soon he started telling me about this label he was putting together." With the sense of stability Ritenour's label promised, coupled with a sincere interest in and attention to her career, was Vesta more than eager to sign on with Ritenour's then new I.E. inprint at Polygram. Vesta - "I was excited about being a priority at a label!"