On September 17, 1983, Vanessa Lynn Williams made history by becoming the first African-American woman in the pageant’s 63-year history to capture the Miss America title. (For the competition’s first 30 years, blacks weren’t even allowed to become contestants.)
Scandal later erupted, however, when nude photos surfaced of Williams that had reportedly been shot when she worked for a photographer before her pageant days. She was forced to resign her Miss America title in July 1984.
After some time away from the public eye, Williams re-emerged and embarked on a successful music career. In 1988, she released her debut album, The Right Stuff, The Comfort Zone, sold over two million copies. In 1995, she recorded “Colors of the Wind,” the theme song on the soundtrack for the animated feature Pocahontas.
As Williams continued to record and perform music, her acting career heated up. She made her big-screen debut with a small role in 1987’s The Pick-Up Artist, featuring Molly Ringwald and Robert Downey Jr. Williams also racked up credits on the small screen, including roles on the short-lived series Boomtown and South Beach. From 2006-2010, she co-starred in the hit ABC sitcom Ugly Betty.