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NANCY WILSON – The Legend Has Passed Away

“Nancy Wilson – was a voice and a presence for the arts. Thank You Ms. Wilson

…Eric Holder, Former United States Attorney General

Nancy Wilson, the legendary Grammy Award winning “song stylist” whose polished pop/jazz vocals, along with her skilled and flexible approach to singing provided a connection between the “divas of the 50s, 60s and 70s, and which also made her a platinum artist and top concert performer, passed away last week at the age of 81.

During her celebrated and legendary career, Miss Wilson was influenced by Dinah Washington, Nat “King Cole” and many other stars, and performed American standards and R&B torch songs; Broadway show tunes along with jazz ballads…and she even would put her own take on chart-toppers, such as “Don’t Ask My Neighbors” made famous by the Emotions. All of which received the Nancy Wilson magic touch.

“I have a gift for telling stories, making them seem larger than life,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. “I love the vignette, the plays within the song.”

She resisted being put into any category, especially jazz and always referred to herself as a “song stylist.” “The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. “I just never considered myself a jazz singer. I do not do runs and—-you know. I take a lyric and make it mine. I consider myself an interpreter of the lyric.” “I don’t put labels on it, I just sing.” She continued, “It’s all in the ear of the listener. Let them decide.”

Some of Miss Wilson’s best-selling recordings told tales of heartbreak, with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. She was the forerunner of today’s modern empowerment singers, with the brassy inflections and she could always infuse even the saddest song with a sense of strength.

Miss Wilson recorded and released more than 70 albums in a five-decade long recording career, including a best-selling concert recording, “How Glad I Am,” which earned her a Grammy Award in 1965 for “Best R& B Performance,” and she later won Grammy Awards for “Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2005 for “R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal)” and in 2007 for “Turned to Blue.”

“She was simply one of the best to ever do it.”

…Ed Gordon, Television Host

Nancy Sue Wilson was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, and was the eldest of six children of a maid (Lillian) and iron foundry worker (Oden), she sang in church and her father introduced her to records by mainly male artists like Billy Eckstein and Jimmy Scott, when he sang with Lionel Hampton’s Big Band. “Much of my phrasing is so similar to Jimmy Scott’s,” Miss Wilson told the Los Angeles Times. In high school at age 15 she won a talent contest sponsored by a local television station and was awarded her own program and she appeared twice weekly on the show “Skyline Melodies.” Until her graduation, she sang in nightclubs, sometimes with Sir Raleigh Randolph and His Sultans of Swing, an 18-piece band.

Miss Wilson attended Central State College in Ohio for one year before dropping out to pursue music full time. She toured continuously in the Midwest and Canada with Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band, with which she made her first recordings with Dot Records. Seven years later she made the big move to New York City.

Nancy arrived in New York with three goals she firmly set for herself: to be signed by the established entertainment manager, John Levy, who worked with the saxophonist Cannonball Adderly and pianist George Shearing; to be signed by Capitol Records, the home of singers like Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee; and to record her first album with the producer Davis Cavanaugh, who worked with those singers…within five months she fulfilled all three goals, even while holding down a day job as a secretary at the New York Institute of Technology.

Miss Wilson’s first album, “Like in Love!” was released in 1959 and for the four decades that followed, Nancy Wilson had commercial and artistic success after success. She continued to record regularly and perform worldwide, at home in nightclubs, concert halls and singing at jazz festivals from Newport Beach to Tokyo, Japan. She also added acting to her resume by appearing in a number of television programs, films and radio programs. In the 1990s, Miss Wilson became the host of National Public Radio’s “Jazz Profiles,” a documentary series featuring jazz legends and the music legacy.

Nancy Wilson is survived by her son, Kacy Dennis; daughters Samantha Burton and Sheryl Burton; sisters Karen Davis and Brenda Vann and five grandchildren.

“It just dawned on me that I have held hands with and been hugged by two great singers…Ms. Aretha Franklin and Ms. Nancy Wilson.

…Terry McMillan

Best-Selling Author








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