EXCLUSIVE: Deniece Williams Preps For Oakland Shows This Weekend, Remembers Collaborations With Mathis, Natalie Cole, and Sandi Patty

EXCLUSIVE:  Deniece Williams Preps For Oakland Shows This Weekend, Remembers Collaborations With Mathis, Natalie Cole, and Sandi Patty

By Michael P Coleman

One of the hallmarks of Deniece Williams’ career has been her collaborations with other superstars.  The R & B and pop music legend cut her professional teeth singing background for Stevie Wonder, and the partnerships never stopped. 

williams mathis albumThe most popular of those partnerships are, of course, her duets with the incomparable Johnny Mathis.  Beginning with the #1 smash “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late,” Williams and Mathis made magic together for about a decade.  They recorded an entire album together, That’s What Friends Are For, and one of those duets, “Without Us,” was even featured as the theme song to the 80s NBC hit television show Family Ties.

During an EXCLUSIVE interview, Williams said that, just like your first love, you’d never forget your first time working with Johnny Mathis. 

“When they told me that Johnny was looking for a duet partner, and my name had come up, I was so shocked,” Williams humbly remembered.  “I had been in dress rehearsal for THAT job for years!  I used to watch Johnny on television when he did The Merv Griffin Show and various other [television] shows, and I would sing and harmonize along with him.  I loved his voice and of course how handsome he was. It was just so much of a shock when I was told that I had been chosen to be the one who was going to do the [first] duet with him.” 

“I went into the studio and I was a neophyte.  I was just on my second project, and he’s a legend,” Williams continued.  “I walked in there with just such utter respect, and I was so scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen, or how he was going to be as a person.” 

“He came over and gave me a hug, and he started singing one of my songs,” Williams continued.  “I was so blown away that he would even know my music!  He broke out some glasses, we had some wine, we listened to ‘Too Much, Too Little, Too Late’ and we sang it together — it wasn’t like I did my part and he did his — we did it together and it just came out so beautifully. He was — and is — the most humble, nicest, gentlemanly person I’ve ever met.” 

“People ask me with I learned from Steve Wonder, and I say he taught me how to think on my feet, how to be fast on stage,” Williams said.  “They ask what I learned from Maurice [White, of Earth, Wind & Fire, who produced Williams’ debut album, This Is Niecy], and I say I learned how to be a performer and a professional.  But when people ask what I learned from Johnny Mathis, I say he taught me humility, which is, I think, even greater than the first two.” 

Duet with Sandi PattyAfter her successes with Mathis, Williams was given to opportunity of work with several other industry titans.  One of them was Contemporary Christian Music icon Sandi Patty, with whom Williams recorded the Grammy-winning duet, “They Say.” 

“It was wonderful,” Williams says of recording with Patty.  “She was such a genuine person.  We instantly became sisters in the Lord, and it was just such an honor to sing with her.  Sandi was — and still is — one of the number one Christian artists, so for her to agree to sing with me on my first gospel project was just amazing.” 

Another of Williams’ equally stirring gospel collaborations was the Grammy-nominated “We Sing Praises” with Natalie Cole.  They recorded the duet for Williams’ second gospel album, Special Love, just after Cole had begun recovery for drug addiction.  Fans of Cole’s won’t be surprised to hear her really dig in and go for it, vocally, while in the studio with Williams, who remembers the time fondly. 

“I’d been a friend of Natalie’s for a lot of years,” Williams said, “and had been praying for her.  Years before we recorded together, we’d be working in Las Vegas or in other cities across the country, and between my shows I would go over to Natalie’s hotel room and she’d be strung out on drugs, just as high as a kite.  I’d just say ‘Natalie, let’s pray’ and we prayed, prayed, prayed for her deliverance.” 

Duet Natalie Cole“Finally, when Natalie got her drug addiction pushed aside, she wanted to praise God for it,” Williams recalled.  “She and I talked and we decided to do ‘We Sing Praises’ to give God praise for Natalie’s recovery and deliverance, for what God was doing in our lives.  We recorded the song together.  I’ll never forget it.” 

While fans hope for the continuation of her record-breaking collaborations with industry titans, those in the Bay Area can count on two incredible live shows from Williams, at Yoshi’s this weekend.

“We’re gonna have a lot of fun,” Williams said.  “I always take the attitude that fans are there in my living room, and we’re just conversing and talking with one another and hanging out and enjoying some great music and funny stories.  It’s going to be an incredible time.” 

Tickets for Williams’ 7:30pm show at Yoshi’s is sold out, but there are still tickets available for Williams’ 9:30pm show this Saturday, April 28th.  Go to deniecewilliams.com for for information. 

 Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman and Coleman Communications at michaelpcoleman.com