Friday, September 23, 2011

IN PRAISE OF VESTA WILLIAMS: THE SILENCING OF ANOTHER GREAT SOUL VOICE

For me, September 22 will live in infamy as the day the music died -- twice.

Losing R.E.M. was a terrible personal blow because the band provided the soundtrack to so much of my life. But at least R.E.M. lived to enjoy years of mainstream popularity and multi-platinum success, two things that sadly always eluded Vesta Williams.

When I saw that "Vesta Williams" was trending on Twitter, I knew she wasn't finally getting her due after decades of neglect. The breaking news was that she had been found dead in her Los Angeles hotel room today. Although it's been determined that she passed away on September 22, the cause of death is still unknown.

Vesta Williams is one in an unfortunately too-long line of '80s soul divas who never got the mainstream recognition -- or sales -- that they deserved in a decade when the pop mainstream was too obsessed with Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson and Anita Baker to notice that R&B singers like Angela Winbush, Stephanie Mills, Regina Belle, Miki Howard and Williams were creating equally potent music.

Despite logging a half dozen Top 10 hits on Billboard's R&B singles chart between 1986 and 1991, Williams only managed to graze the Hot 100 once, when "Congratulations" made it to No. 55 in 1989. That's the quiet-storm slow jam that she's probably best remembered for, but "Sweet Sweet Love," a No. 4 R&B hit in 1988, was the one that made me fall in love with her voice and remains in regular rotation on my iPod. Although she's gone much too soon, that voice, big enough to move hearts, and mountains, will live on.

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