Is Vanessa Williams biracial? Singer's complex lineage sparked a million Google searches

Vanessa Williams' ethnicity and heritage appear to have confused many as they turned to Google for details


                            Is Vanessa Williams biracial? Singer's complex lineage sparked a million Google searches
Vanessa Williams performs at Sheen Center for Thought & Culture in New York City (Photo by John Lampa/Getty Images)

Vanessa Williams performing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as “The Star-Spangled Banner” gets performed at PBS’ annual 'A Capitol Fourth' celebration has sparked an interest in her racial heritage, as the song is widely touted as the "Black national anthem."

Williams' ethnicity and heritage appear to have confused many after Google revealed millions of search queries for details about her ancestry in light of her performance. Speaking to the Associated Press in an interview published on Friday, July 2, she said she would be performing the song as a way to promote Juneteenth during the show, which was slated to air less than a month after President Joe Biden signed into law a federal holiday commemorating the day slaves were officially emancipated in the United States. “Lift Every Voice and Sing” was reportedly written as a poem by organization leader James Weldon Johnson in 1900. His brother, John Rosamond Johnson, later added music to lyrics, according to the NAACP.

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Is Vanessa Williams biracial?

Williams, who basked in the limelight as the star of 'Ugly Betty' and 'Desperate Housewives', self-identifies as African-American. Her slated performance of the "Black national anthem" caused many fans and critics to wonder about her ethnicity, with thousands of Google queries about her blue eyes, and whether or not she is Black, White or biracial.

According to author Ben Arogundade, Williams was born with light skin, straight hair, and blue eyes. This caused the public to wonder how the film and music celebrity could be referred to as "Black." Born in Millwood, New York, on March 18, 1963, Williams' parents are former high school music teachers Helen and Milton Williams, who reportedly have a mix of African and European heritage.

Actress Vanessa Williams attends the BAFTA Los Angeles Awards Season Tea in Association with The Four Seasons and Bombay Sapphire at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on January 15, 2011, in Los Angeles, California (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images For BAFTA Los Angeles)

In 2013, Williams spoke to Ancestry.com after getting her and her father's DNA analysis conducted. "One of my great-great-grandfathers was a soldier in the Civil War, and the other was born a slave but ended up being an educator and principal, and one of the first Black legislators in Tennessee back in 1885," she revealed. "The stories are rich and informative and intriguing, but also as an African-American, you don’t always have the luxury to know exactly where your ancestors are from," Williams added.

According to the analysis, the singer's DNA breaks down as follows: She's 23% from Ghana, 17% from the British Isles, 15% from Cameroon, 12% Finnish, 11% Southern European, 7% from Togo, 6% from Benin, 5% from Senegal and 4% Portuguese.

Vanessa Williams sings the National Anthem for Super Bowl XXX between the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona (Photo by Mike Powell /Allsport via Getty Images)

"I can’t wait to go to Ghana and Cameroon and Togo and Senegal — it’s a great opportunity to see why the customs resonate with you," Williams told the website at the time. "I love to travel and I love to explore, and I have to admit that I was always jealous of people who knew their cultural background. Both my family and I came out with light eyes, so obviously there is a recessive gene here. Not knowing what that was just made me very curious," she added.

Nonetheless, Williams' performance has sparked a new wave of interest in her ethnicity and racial heritage. According to Arogundade, approximately 1,000 curious Internet users from around the world type the phrase “Vanessa Williams ethnicity” into their browsers every month. Another 300 per month ask, “Is Vanessa Williams Black?” Cumulatively, queries about Williams's ethnic background and heritage reportedly add up to more than 50,000 searches every year.

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