Deniece Williams: From Medicine To Music

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Singer Deniece Williams, known for hits such as “Free”,”Silly” (1981), “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle” (1982), and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” (1984), continues to perform and thrill audiences year after year.  But the world may have never seen this talent if she landed in her first career choice in medicine. Yes, medicine.

Williams cut her own first single at 17, but when the song failed to penetrate radio playlists outside of Gary, she enrolled in nursing courses at Purdue University. By her second year, she recalls, “I felt like I was wasting the state’s money and my time. I was studying other things—good times, mostly.” At 19, she had this nagging feeling that she was supposed to do something different so she dropped out, married her childhood sweetheart and began preparing for a family. Then a cousin in Detroit arranged for an audition with his boss, Stevie Wonder, and Williams was suddenly hired to sing with Wonderlove, backing him up. Much of her next three years was spent on the road.


Although Williams had recorded one inspirational song on almost each of her secular albums, it was in 1980 that her musical career path began to change favoring Gospel music. Williams joined with friends Philip Bailey (Earth, Wind & Fire fame), Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo to present a gospel show at a popular Los Angeles club named The Roxy. The show was called “Jesus At the Roxy”. Williams later reported that “God did something miraculous. Over three hundred people were saved.”

After that, both Bailey and Williams decided to pursue careers in Christian music. In 1983, Williams and Bailey recorded “They Say”, an atmospheric, slow praise song that builds towards the end with rousing words of praise. The song was written by songwriters Skip Scarborough and Terri McFaddin and received airplay on both Urban and Gospel Black radio. Williams later recorded the song with Christian artist Sandi Patti and won a Grammy for it.

In 1985, Williams sang a Gospel song at the 27th Annual Grammy Awards instead of singing her number-one hit…