Gary native Williams in Legends of Soul show
As a teen, Deniece Williams didn’t envision becoming a successful vocalist.
The girl from Gary was going to be a nurse.
“I never thought about singing as a career,” Williams, 63, related in a recent phone interview.
The world of entertainment eventually won out over the medical profession, turning the 1968 graduate of Gary’s Tolleston High School into a Grammy-winning artist known for 1984’s “Let’s Hear It For the Boy,” a No. 1 pop hit from the Kevin Bacon movie, “Footloose.”
Now residing in Las Vegas, Williams is returning to Northwest Indiana to perform in the “Legends of Soul” show, set for 8 p.m. Friday in The Venue at Hammond’s Horseshoe Casino.
“Any opportunity for me to come home, I’m always happy to do that,” she said.
The June 14 engagement also features three other standouts of pop, and rhythm and blues: Betty Wright (“Clean Up Woman”), Clarence Carter (“Patches”) and Tower of Power vocalist Lenny Williams (“So Very Hard to Go”).
Of all the performers on the bill, Deniece Williams has had the most pop-chart success. She teamed up with Johnny Mathis on “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” a duet that reached the top of Billboard’s pop chart in 1978.
Honing her talents with Chicago’s Toddlin’ Town Records, Williams had evolved into a rising major-label force by the time the lilting duet with Mathis confirmed her impact.
Although the heyday of churning out hit singles has long passed for the Gary native, she is still active when it comes to recording.
“I’m about to go in the studio to work on a Christmas project, something I’ve wanted to do for so many years,” Williams said this month.
The holiday album will hopefully be released by Thanksgiving.
A voice that has boasted a wide range will be showcased.
“I know that I sing comfortably in four octaves,” said Williams, who has recorded with Philip Bailey of Earth, Wind & Fire. “I can sing alto, as well as soprano.”
In early 1977, “Free” proved to be Williams’ break-out hit, reflecting dynamically sweet vocal command.
Columbia Records had an up-and-coming star on its hands.
Earlier in the ‘70s, the singer gained valuable show business experience by performing with Wonderlove, the backup group for superstar Stevie Wonder.
“Musically, I learned so much from him,” said Williams, who grew up in Gary with the surname of Chandler.
She made herself known to a massive television audience by joining Johnny Mathis once again -- this time to sing “Without Us,” the theme song of the Michael J. Fox sitcom “Family Ties,” which debuted in 1982.
That same year, Williams triumphed in both the pop and rhythm-and-blues fields with the wistfully pretty “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle.”
Her solid reputation anchors the The Venue’s Friday lineup, which is promoted by Urban Vibe Entertainment of Chicago.
Rick Johnson, owner of Urban Vibe, said his show allows the public to see past greats who are not heard much on radio nowadays.
“People want to see living legends,” the promoter stated. “They all had top-charting hits.”
Additionally, Williams has written and sang gospel music for a long time.
At the 1985 Grammy Awards show, Williams performed a gospel song instead of her chart-topping pop hit, “Let’s Hear It For the Boy” -- which had just supplied a mammoth career boost the year before.
Williams explained that performing the song did not really fit in the broadcast’s performance format, “and the opportunity came up for gospel, so that’s what I did.”
She ended up singing “God is Amazing,” one of her compositions.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for me to tell people who is behind my success,” the mother of four sons said.
The Grammy Awards show of 1987 dished a Grammy to Williams for Best Soul Gospel Performance, Female. She won it for “I Surrender All.”
Williams took home another Grammy that same year in the category of Best Gospel Performance by a Duo or Group, Choir or Chorus. She earned the honor for “They Say,” a duet with Sandi Patti.
Not currently married, Williams has weathered divorce and the often rocky world of the pop-music business.
She has found safe harbor in spiritual melodies.
Asked to pick any of her songs that rank as a favorite or a defining tune, Williams takes a pass on getting specific, choosing instead to look at the big picture.
“I’ve really had an opportunity to do some great music,” she summed up.
If you go
What: “Legends of Soul,” featuring Deniece Williams, Betty Wright, Clarence Carter and Lenny Williams
Where: The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive, Hammond; 473-6060
When: 8 p.m. Friday, June 14
Tickets: $55, $65 and $75; www.ticketmaster.com
More details: www.thevenue-chicago.com