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NANCY WILSON,
1937-2018

Nancy Wilson, who worked the pop side of jazz and soul in the 1960s and ’70s before returning to jazz later in life, earning three Grammys in the process, died Thursday at her home in Pioneertown, Calif. She was 81.

Though she has been ill for awhile, there was no cause given.

Wilson released more than 70 albums winning Best Rhythm and Blues Recording Grammy for 1964’s How Glad I Am, and the Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy for 2005’s R.S.V.P. and 2007’s Turned to Blue. She had eight Top 30 albums between 1963 and ’65.

Her biggest hits were “Guess Who I Saw Today” in 1960 and the R&B hit “Face it Girl, It’s Over” eight years later. “You’re Right as Rain” was a Top 10 R&B hit in 1975.

“Nancy was a self-described song stylist whose refined vocals contributed to her success as a versatile artist who was able to create unique interpretations of songs that extended beyond the jazz genre,” said Neil Portnow, President/CEO of the Recording Academy. “Nancy's musical talent and sophisticated style will inspire audiences for years to come. She will be dearly missed, and our sincerest condolences go out to her loved ones at this difficult time.”

As a high school student in Columbus, Ohio, she sang on a local television station show and at nightclubs with a big band. She joined Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band after a year of college, touring and recording for Dot Records.

She moved to New York in 1959 and within five months of her arrival she was signed by Capitol Records—she would record for them for two decades—and working with producer David Cavanaugh. Her debut album, Like in Love, was released in 1960 and featured arrangements by Billy May.

Having signed with Cannonball Adderley’s manager, in 1961 she recorded an album with the saxophonist, Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley that has become a vocal jazz classic.

Wilson had her own variety show on NBC, The Nancy Wilson Show, in 1974 and ‘75, and was a frequent guest variety shows and acted on drama and comedy series such as Hawaii 5-O and The Cosby Show. She was also the host of NPR’s Jazz Profiles, which had more than 190 episodes between 1996 and 2005.

She started singing pop tunes in the late 1960s and eventually took a shot disco before returning to jazz. She recorded for Columbia in the ‘80s and ‘90s before going the independent route.

She received an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 2004 for lifetime achievement and, in 1998, the NAACP Image award. 

An advocate of civil rights, she participated in the Selma to Montgomery, Ala., protest march in 1965, and was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.

 

 

 

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