Sheldon T. Nunn – Life is a song worth singing and no one did so better than Nancy Wilson, considered by many to possess one of the most beautifully crafted voices of her generation and with it she captivated audiences all over the world with a personified singing ability for more than five decades. Always the lady, Nancy was the epitome of beauty, elegance, grace, sophistication and style. Her mesmerizing vocal phrasings captured hearts as well as minds from many walks of life. We could all relate to Nancy Wilson in some manner as a Grammy-Award winning “song stylist” and someone who became a much sought-after platinum recording artist and top concert entertainer.
Nancy Wilson passed away December 13th at age 81 after a long illness, as stated by her publicist Devra Hall. Wilson’s sultry vocal style left little to be desired as a performer and word of her death has left a vacuum that will not be easily satisfied, but we do have the benefit of numerous recordings chronicling a much-heralded career. Resisting categorization, especially so when speaking of jazz, she exclusively referred to herself as a “song stylist.” During a 2010 San Francisco Chronicle interview, Ms. Wilson stated: “The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s, I just never considered myself a jazz singer. I do not do runs and — you know. I take a lyric and make it my own. I consider myself an interpreter of the lyric.” This statement proved to be somewhat of a shift, considering her humble beginnings began in jazz.
Born February 20, 1937 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Nancy Wilson started singing in 1956 soon after graduating from high school. Her very first gig came with Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band. Riding on the advice of saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Nancy left Ohio and moved to New York City to really test her chops as a professional vocalist. While there she worked as a secretary during the day and sung in clubs by night. In 1959 Nancy was signed by Capitol Records and embarked on a career that crossed the lines of jazz, pop and soul. In 1962, Nancy hooked-up with Cannonball Adderley to record an album entitled ‘Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley,’ a release that spawned a stellar career that made her a household name for more than five decades. Additionally, that album led to her first big hit entitled “Save Your Love for Me.” In 1964 and ‘65, Wilson recorded four solo albums, one of which contained the hit song “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which charted #11 on Billboard’s top ten and won Nancy her first Grammy Award for “Best Rhythm and Blues” recording. Wilson made any number of concert appearances, hosted ‘The Nancy Wilson Show’ from 1967-1968, made appearances on “I Spy,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Sammy Davis Jr. Show,” “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Moesha,” “The Parkers,” as well as in Robert Townsend’s 1993 movie “The Meteor Man” and “The Big Score.” Furthermore, Nancy Wilson has received three Grammys, an Emmy for her NBC TV series, induction into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame as well as the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame. Other notable achievements have included many years hosting NPR’s “Jazz Profiles” series, activities in the civil rights movement to include the Selma march of 1965 and receiving the 1998 NAACP Image Award – Hall of Fame Award. Heavily Influenced by Dinah Washington, Nat “King” Cole and others, Wilson’s lyrical content was conversational and often understated; however, what set her apart from her contemporaries can be found in Nancy’s uniquely seductive style of delivery. Nancy Wilson will best be remembered as one of the most elegant divas who only comes around once every blue moon.