Born in 1973 in Virginia, Pharrell Williams started performing as a teen. He joined forces with his friend Chad Hugo and they became known as in-demand production team the Neptunes, working with such artists as Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani and Britney Spears. Returning to performing, Williams helped form the group N.E.R.D., which released albums like In Search Of... and Seeing Sounds. In 2013, he hit the pop charts in a major way, going to No. 1 with his solo effort "Happy" as well as helping to craft hits with Robin Thicke and Daft Punk. He joined the popular television competition The Voice in September 2014 as a coach.
Early Life and Career
Born on April 5, 1973, in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Pharrell Williams has become a leading force in popular music as a performer, songwriter and producer. He first got into music at a young age. "As a kid, my aunt and I used to sit in front of the stereo and just play records," Williams explained to CosmoGirl magazine. One of the first albums he bought was by hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest.
The eldest of three sons, Williams started out by tapping rhythms on school desks. He attended Princess Anne High School where he felt somewhat out of place. As he told the London Evening Standard, "I lived in Normalville USA and I didn't look like the average kid." Williams eventually teamed up with friend Chad Hugo. The pair started performing together and later became the acclaimed producing duo the Neptunes. Another one of Williams' early breaks came thanks to producer Teddy Riley, who asked him to contribute to "Rump Shaker" by Wreckx-N-Effect in the early 1990s.
Major Success as Producer
As the Neptunes, Williams and Hugo first broke through as a producing duo for such rap artists as Ol' Dirty Bastard and Jay-Z. They then branched out into pop music, working with the likes of Britney Spears and Usher. Williams also started performing, making guest vocal appearances on such songs as "Excuse Me Miss" by Jay-Z. In 2003, Williams made his first solo effort with the song "Frontin'." Williams and Hugo also picked up their first Grammy Awards—for their work on Justin Timberlake's 2002 Justified album and for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.
With Hugo and Shae Haley, Williams found success with the rap-rock act N.E.R.D. (which stands for Nothing Ever Really Dies). The group put out several well-received albums, including Seeing Sounds (2008). Williams also released his first solo album, 2006's In My Mind, and branched out into film in 2010 by creating the score for the animated hit Despicable Me.
Uplifting Hit With 'Happy'
In 2013, Williams was instrumental in making two mega-hits: Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and Daft Punk's "Get Lucky." (He co-wrote and sang on both of those tracks.) The following year, he earned individual Grammys for Record of the Year with "Get Lucky" and Album of the Year for contributing to Daft Punk's Random Access Memories. Williams also won for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and again for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical.
Also in 2013, Williams reached the top of the charts with a solo effort—"Happy" from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, with the track staying at No. 1 for weeks and setting a Billboard record as a crossover chart phenomenon. "Happy" also earned Williams his first Academy Award nomination, with the singer/producer performing the song live on the Oscar telecast and serenading actress nominees Amy Adams, Lupita N'yongo and Meryl Streep in the audience. That same year, he released his second solo album, G I R L. And early 2015 saw more accolades for "Happy," with a visibly surprised Williams earning a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance for a live version of the song, along with Best Music Video. G I R L also won for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
However, Williams landed in court having to contend with a countersuit filed more than a year earlier from the estate of Marvin Gaye. He and Thicke were charged with committing copyright infringement by taking major musical elements from the song "Got to Give It Up" for the hit "Blurred Lines." After proceedings in which Thicke testified that he'd had little to do with the writing of the song, in March 2015 the jury ruled in favor of Gaye's family, who were awarded $7.3 million in damages and profit shares. The jury also ruled that neither Williams or Thicke had purposely committed infringement. The two plan to appeal the court's overall decision.
Besides music, Williams is also passionate about design. He co-founded two fashion labels—Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream—with Tomoaki "Nigo" Nagao. Working with Marc Jacobs, Williams has also designed a line of sunglasses. And he joined forces with the Adidas brand in 2014. The clothing made with Adidas will feature fabrics from Bionic Yarn, a textile company owned by Williams.
In addition to fashion, Williams has sought out different types of media projects. He signed on to act as creative director for Karmaloop TV in 2011, also investing in this effort to produce programming for young fashion-forward and tech-oriented viewers across different platforms, including the web.
In September 2014, Williams joined Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and fellow rookie coach Gwen Stefani (whom he worked with on No. 1 hit "Hollaback Girl") on the singing competition TV series The Voice. He continued as a coach on the show during winter and spring the following year. Then in early October 2015, Williams released a children's picture book, Happy, inspired by his award-winning song. The title hit the New York Times Best Sellers list.
Williams has been married to Helen Lasichanh since 2013. The couple has a son Rocket, who was born in 2008, and triplets, born in January 2017.
(Profile photo of Pharrell Williams by Brian Bowen Smith/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
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