On this day in music history: September 13, 19…

On this day in music history: September 13, 1976 – “This Is Niecy”, the debut album by Deniece Williams is released. Produced by Maurice White and Charles Stepney, it is recorded at Wally Heider Studios in Los Angeles, CA, Davlen Sound Studios in North Hollywood, CA and Kendun Recorders in Burbank, CA from June – August 1976. Born and raised in Gary, IN, Deniece Williams (nee Chandler) begins her recording career in shortly before graduating from high school, recording several singles for Toddlin’ Town and Lock Records. When none of the singles make any significant waves outside the mid west, she marrie and starts a family. The music business beckons again in 1971 when Deniece’s cousin John Harris who also works for Motown superstar Stevie Wonder, plays her single “Love Is Tears” for him. Immediately taken with her sweet mellifluous five octave voice, Wonder invites her to audition for his band Wonderlove. She is hired as a background vocalist and spends the next four years with Stevie’s band. During her tenure, Wonder discusses producing an album for Deniece. But with his own career in full swing, the project never happens, with Williams leaving in 1975. During this time, she meets Maurice White of Earth, Wind & Fire who happens to be in the audience at one of Stevie’s shows. The EWF bandleader is also taken with Willams’ voice, and offers to work with her. By early 1976, Deniece is signed to White’s Kalimba Productions who assists in getting her signed to Columbia Records. Also a gifted songwriter in her own right, Williams writes or co-writes six of the seven songs on her debut. Backed by the members of Earth, Wind & Fire, sessions begin the Spring of 1976. One of the immediate standouts is the song “Free” (#2 R&B, #25 Pop), co-written with former Wonderlove band mates Hank Redd, Nathan Watts and Susaye Greene. Issued as the first single in the Fall of 1976, “Free” takes off quickly, racing into the top five on the R&B singles charts and the top 30 on the pop chart. The song is also a smash internationally, hitting #1 in the UK in early 1977, keeping her former boss Stevie Wonder’s single “Sir Duke” from topping the UK singles chart. In an ironic twist, “Free” is prevented from reaching #1 on the R&B chart by Wonder’s previous single “I Wish”. The track “Cause You Love Me Baby” (#74 R&B), released on the B-side of “Free” also receives significant airplay on R&B stations and charts briefly. The album spins off two more singles including “That’s What Friends Are For” (#65 R&B, #103 Pop) and “It’s Important To Me” (#13 Club Play). Originally released on CD in 1990, it is remastered and reissued in 2006, containing one bonus track. “Niecy” is remastered and reissued a second time in 2012 by Big Break Records, including three additional bonus tracks. “This Is Niecy” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, number thirty three on the Top 200, and is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.