Nancy Wilson was an award-winning song stylist with a decades-long career, known for traversing genres that include classic pop, R&B and jazz.
Background and Early Career
Nancy Wilson was born on February 20, 1937, in Chillicothe, Ohio, though she grew up not far from Columbus. She was the oldest of six siblings and began singing at the age of 4, receiving great encouragement from her family and influenced by the sounds of “Little” Jimmy Scott, Dinah Washington, LaVern Baker and Nat King Cole, among others. Having gained experience singing in church, Wilson landed a gig performing twice a week as a teen on her own local television show, Skyline Melody.
She later studied at Central State College, thinking of becoming an educator, but opted instead to follow her passion for song. As a North American touring artist, Wilson met famed jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who gave her advice on the shaping of her career. She moved to New York in 1959 and quickly was able to secure a recording deal with Capitol Records, with Adderley's manager John Levy taking Wilson on as a client as well.
Songs With Cannonball
Wilson made her album debut with Like in Love (1959), followed by Something Wonderful the following year. She became one of the biggest selling acts of the time with songs that included the string-laden, testifiyin’ “(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am,” which was a Top 20 pop and No. 2 adult contemporary hit. After working with the George Shearing Quintet and conductor/composer Billy May, she and Adderley joined forces for a 1962 album which featured the R&B gem “Save Your Love for Me.”
Cultivating the image of a poised yet passionate sophisticate, Wilson is known for her distinct, nuanced vocals. She has presented tunes that have pointed spoken sections as seen with “Guess Who I Saw Today” and “I'll Get Along Somehow.”
The stylist has recorded dozens of albums over the years, eventually switching from Capitol to Columbia, and making an impact on classic pop, soul, jazz and adult contemporary audiences with a captivating stage presence. Her work in the first decade of the 2000s saw her collaborate on two-full length recordings with pianist Ramsey Lewis along with a bevy of other artists on later outings.
Wilson had her own variety series in the ‘60s, the Emmy-winning The Nancy Wilson Show, and has also made appearances in a variety of other programs, including The Ed Sullivan Show, Hawaii Five-O, The Carol Burnett Show, Sinbad and The Arsenio Hall Show. (Hall had gotten his break opening for Wilson during one of her tours.)
By early 2014, Wilson had received multiple Grammy Award nominations and won three, including trophies for best rhythm & blues recording for “How Glad I Am” and best jazz vocal album prizes for R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) (2004) and Turned to Blue (2006). Wilson has also won the 2002 George Foster Peabody Award for her NPR radio show, Jazz Profiles, a series that ran from the mid-1990s to 2005.
February 20, 1937
December 13, 2018
- She attended Central State University, an HBCU, in 1955.
- Her first single,“Guess Who I Saw Today?”, debuted in 1960 and was most recently covered by Chante Moore in 2008.
- She participated in the historic civil rights march in Selma, AL in 1965.
- She won an Emmy Award for her 1974-1975 television program, The Nancy Wilson Show, and also landed roles as an actress on the big and small screens.
- She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.
- In January 2007, Nancy Wilson was featured on the cover of ESSENCE alongside Wendy Raquel Robinson, Kelly Rowland, Patti LaBelle and Vanessa Williams.
- She was stunning, multi-talented and well-respect by fellow musicians, fans, family and friends around the world.