Deniece Williams (born June Deniece Chandler; June 3, 1950) is an American singer, songwriter and record producer who achieved success in the 1970s and 1980s. Williams is known for hits such as “Free” (1976), “Silly” (1981), “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” (1982), “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” (1984), and for her duets with Johnny Mathis.
Born in Gary, Indiana, Williams attended Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, in the hopes of becoming a registered nurse and an anesthetist, but dropped out after a year and a half. “You have to be a good student to be in college, and I wasn’t.” She also performed on the side during that time. (“I got a part-time job singing at a club, Casino Royal, and I liked it. It was a lot of fun.”) During those years Williams worked also in a telephone company and as a ward clerk in the Chicago Mercy Hospital. As Deniece Chandler, she recorded for The Toddlin’ Town group of labels and one of those early records, “I’m Walking Away”, released on Toddlin’ Town’s Lock Records subsidiary in the late 1960s, is a favorite on England’s Northern Soul scene. In the 1970s she became a backup vocalist for Stevie Wonder as part of “Wonderlove”.
She left Wonder in 1975 and after signing to Columbia Records, she teamed up with two famed producers: Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire, and his frequent collaborator, Charles Stepney. Her 1976 debut album entitled This Is Niecy was released. The single “Free” reached No. 2 on the Black Singles chart, No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, and No. 1 on the British Singles chart. The album also featured “Cause You Love Me Baby” (which charted separately on the R&B chart as the flip side of “Free”) and “That’s What Friends Are For”. She also shared a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with pop singer Johnny Mathis in 1978 with the duet “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”. The duet also topped the Black Singles and Adult Contemporary charts. Williams also topped the dance charts with her disco single “I’ve Got the Next Dance”. Mathis and Williams also recorded the popular theme to the 1980s sitcom Family Ties, “Without Us”. Williams moved on to the American Recording Company (ARC) in the early 1980s where she scored the top ten R&B smash hit “Silly” in 1981. The following year, yet another famed producer, Thom Bell, helped Williams score another number-one R&B chart-topper with her remake of The Royalettes’ “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle”, which became a Top 10 pop hit as well, reaching No. 10.