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Wilson, Nancy 1937—

Nancy Wilson 1937

Singer

At a Glance

Traveled and Sang

Coveted as a Guest Star and Hostess

Weathered Changes in Musical Climate

Selected discography

Sources

Nancy Wilson has been a world-renownedjazz, rhythm and blues, and pop singer for more than 35 years. Fashionable and poised, with a voice that both soothes and seduces an audience, Wilson prefers to call herself a song stylist who ranges freely through several musical idioms. Rather than reading music, Wilson learns each song by listening to the melody, enabling her to decide which songs best complement her rich, supple voice. An Essence magazine contributor noted that the entertainer has always defied easy labels or glib categorizations: She is a jazz singer. A balladeer. She does cabaret, sophisticated pop, rhythm and blues. To say she is any one of these, or even all of these, is to miss who she really isan artist of such enduring talent, class, and elegance that she doesnt just defy the labels, she transcends them.

Wilson is among the best known in a second wave of vocal performers who followed in the footsteps of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughn. Like those singers, she has enjoyed a long period of success before live audiences in the United States, Europe, and Japan. Wilson has also been a featured guest star on numerous television variety shows and specials, her popularity remaining constant through the decades. An Ebony correspondent concluded that she is one of the great distinctive voices, a singer whose words are never less than crystal clear, and whose head, heart, and soul always seem totally enmeshed in her songs For 35 years the exquisite, melting voice has ranged across the music landscape, from small jazz clubs to the main dining rooms of the casinos of Las Vegas, from America to Japan.

Many pop singers have come and gone since Wilson found her first national audience in the early 1960s. The secret to her longevityaside from her still-glamorous good lookslies in her flawless styling, splendid vocals, and sensitive interpretation of lyrics. Good music, she was quoted as saying in Essence, is what people identify me with. Her talents brought her fans from all races before the term crossover had even been coined. Wilson told Essence: I didnt know I was a black artist until I was nominated for a Grammy in a black category.

The oldest of six children of Olden and Lillian Wilson, Nancy Wilson was born and raised in Chillicothe, Ohio. Hers was a close-knit family with two hard-working

At a Glance

Born February 20, 1937, in Chillicothe, OH; daughter of Olden (an iron foundry worker) and Lillian (Ryan) Wilson; married Kenneth C. Dennis (a drummer; divorced, 1970); married Wiley Burton (a minister), 1974; children: (first marriage) Kenneth ˝Kacy˝ (second marriage) Samantha, Sheryl. Education: Attended Central State College, Ohio, 1955.

Sang in church choirs as a child; performed in theater clubs, Columbus, OH, area, c. early 1950s; star of local radio show Skyline Melody, Columbus, OH, 1952-54; member of Rusty Bryants Carolyn Club Band, 1956-58; New York Institute of Technology, secretary, 1959; club singer, New York, NY, 1959; released firstalbum, Like in Love, with Capitol Records, 1959. Hostess, The Nancy Wilson Show, 1967-68; numerous appearances on variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Flip Wilson Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show, and The Arsenio Halt Show; numerous appearances on television series. Cofounder, Nancy Wilson Foundation (brings inner-city children to the country).

Member: Presidential Council for Minority Businesss Enterprises; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Operation PUSH (chairperson); United Negro College Fund; Committee for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Selected awards: Grammy Award, 1964, for How Glad t Am; Grammy nominations, 1965, for Gentle is My Love, 1988, for Forbidden Lover, and 1994, for With My Lover Beside Me; Emmy Award, 1975, for The Nancy Wilson Show; winner, Tokyo Song Festival, 1983; Global Entertainer of the Year, World Conference of Mayors, 1986; Image Award, NAACP, 1986; star, Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1990; Essence Award, Essence magazine, 1992; Martin Luther King Center for Social Change Award, 1993; Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award for Outstanding Achievement, 1994.

Addresses: Management Lynn Coles Productions, P.O. Box 93-1198, Los Angeles, CA 90093.

parents. Her mother labored long hours as a domestic and her father worked in an iron foundry. Often Nancy and her brothers and sisters would spend the summers at their grandmothers home on Whiskey Run Road just outside Columbus, Ohio. There the youngster would delight her extended family with her singing.

Wilson has admitted that she has absolutely no formal voice training. Her talent was a gift that she simply utilized from the age of four. Very early she decided she wanted to become a professional singer. She sang in the local church choir and listened avidly to a variety of postwar black American music, including the albums of Billy Eckstine, LaVern Baker, and Nat King Cole. When her family moved to Columbus during her teens, she became host of her own radio show, Skyline Melody, in which she would perform phoned-in requests. Even then her repertoire ranged widely across the pop, jazz, ballad, and torch song categories.

Traveled and Sang

In 1955, Wilson graduated from her Columbus high school. Unsure of her future as an entertainer, she entered college to pursue teaching credentials. She spent one year at Ohios Central State College before dropping out and following her original ambitions. She auditioned and won a spot with Rusty Bryants Carolyn Club Band in 1956, and spent most of the next three years traveling across the United States and Canada as that ensembles female vocalist.

During that period she met jazz saxophonist Julian Cannonball Adderly, who became a major influence on her musical career. Adderly convinced Wilson to move away from a gimmick-laden, pop performance style and emphasize a more sophisticated jazz and ballad material. Doing so, the pair sometimes performed together, including on the 1962 album Nancy Wilson/ Cannonball Adderly Quintet.

In 1959 Wilson decided to go solo. She moved to New York City with two concrete goals: she wanted to record for Capitol Records, and she wanted Adderlys agent, John Levy, to represent her too. Meanwhile, she worked as a secretary at the New York Institute of Technology during the days and sang at nightclubs in the evenings. Wilson assumed she might have to wait months or even years for her break, but within four weeks of her arrival in the city she landed a major assignment. A New York City nightclub owner asked her to substitute for Irene Reid. Delighted with the opportunity, Wilson gave a stellar performance and was quickly booked at the club on a permanent basis. Soon thereafter, Levy came to the club to hear her and immediately arranged a demonstration recording session for the rising star.

At that session Wilson recorded Guess Who I Saw Today and Sometimes Im Happy. Levy sent the tapes to Capitol Records, and within a week Wilson was under contract to the company. Guess Who I Saw Today became a modest hit in 1962, but Wilson achieved a wide audience the following year with Tell Me the Truth. These milestones came early in a period that can only be described as frenetic for Wilson and her drummer husband, Kenny Dennis, whom she had married in 1960. Other key events of her life at that time were the release of her 1960 debut album Like in Love and the recording of her first big rhythm and blues hit, Save Your Love for Me, in 1962.

Often Wilson performed more than 40 weeks per year, two shows a night, at big nightclubs such as Los Angeless Coconut Grove and Las Vegass Sahara Hotel. She was not afraid to look glamorous or to include jazz-styled pop music in her vocal repertoire. In 1964, a Time magazine reviewer praised her for her artfully derivative jazz style, adding: She is, all at once, both cool and sweet, both singer and storyteller. That year Wilson received a Grammy Award for How Glad I Am; the following year her Gentle Is My Love drew a Grammy nomination.

Coveted as a Guest Star and Hostess

By 1966 Wilson was earning in excess of $1,000,000 per year. Her popularity was beginning to spread across the sea to Japan, where she remains a favorite today. In addition to her live performances, she was sought after for television work. During the 1967-68 season, she had her own variety program, The Nancy Wilson Show. Other appearances included The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Today Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, The Flip Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Andy Williams Show. The only medium Wilson resisted was film, not because she did not want to make movies, but because she had difficulty finding roles that she cared to perform.

Asked how she managed to keep her act seemingly new in light of the constant travel, recording sessions, television appearances, and demands of a family, Wilson told Ebony: I feel that a performer owes the audience what it bought in the first place. You cannot shirk that responsibility. I dont care how many times youve done an act, each time you go out it is supposed to be like the first time.

The ceaseless round of live shows, recording sessions, and television appearances began to take a toll on Wilson. In 1970 she divorced her first husband with whom she had a son, and married the Reverend Wiley Burton in 1974. Soon she and Burton had two children together. Wilson curtailed her professional responsibilities somewhat, but her popularity remained undiminished. In 1973, for example, she undertook tours to South America and Japan, but she did not appear in supper clubs.

Wilson told Ebony that she thought the changes improved her show. Because youre not playing the same place two weeks in a row, you can bring a freshness to a performance, she said. You dont feel that its stagnant because each audience is different I used to do 28 days in a row where I had to do two shows a night. By the 15th night, it gets to you. Four weeks in Las Vegas can be painful just because of the sameness.

Weathered Changes in Musical Climate

During the 1970s and 1980swhen electronically enhanced voices became widespread in many genres of musicWilson resisted any innovations that might alter the sound of her recorded voice. When her U.S. record labels refused to abide by her standards, she began recording with Japanese companies. Wilson told Jet magazine that the Japanese recording technicians allow me to sing so that I can sing. I cant sing for a splice in the middle When they stopped recording live, they started doing things you cant reproduce live. That fresh quality has been a hallmark of Wilsons work for decades and has led to several awards and nominations.

As Wilsons children have grown, the artist has also accepted more live engagements, returning home to a spacious ranch in the California high desert 140 miles from Los Angeles. In 1987 Wilson told Ebony that she had finally achieved the kind of balance she had always been searching for between her professional and her private lives. Im not a show business personality, she confided. That whole show biz life is fine, but its not what I do. I sing. I enjoy that while Im doing it, but all by itself it does not sustain me. Besides recording, Wilson has devoted time and money to a several charitable causes, including the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the National Heart Association, the Cancer Society, and the United Negro College Fund.

Considered one of jazz musics grand divas by a 1992 Essence magazine rating of current black American singers, Wilson has brought her cool and stylish music to a new generation of listeners. In 1990 she was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a signal achievement for someone whose career has not included extensive film and television work. She has also continued to release albums, issuing her 54th full-length recording Love, Nancy in 1994.

At a party celebrating the release of her 1994 album, Wilson told Jet magazine: My career is seriously soaring right now. Im busier than Ive ever been and Im going full force. Sure Im still trying to juggle the responsibilities I feel as a wife, mother, and a performer, but my life is great. I feel at peace with myself and thats reflected in how I approach music. She added: The songs on Love, Nancy portray what each of us needs daily to sustain ourselves. The power of love really can overcome anything!

Selected discography

On Capitol Records

Like in Love, 1959.

Something Wonderful, 1960.

The Swingins Mutual, 1960.

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderly Quintet, Capitol, 1962.

Hello Young Lovers, 1962.

Broadway My Way, 1963.

HollywoodMy Way, 1963.

Yesterdays Love Songs, Todays Blues, 1963.

Today, Tomorrow, Forever, 1964.

How Glad I Am, 1964.

The Nancy Wilson Show at the Coconut Grove, 1965.

Nancy Wilson Today My Way, 1965.

Gentle Is My Love, 1965.

From Broadway With Love, 1966.

A Touch of Love Today, 1966.

Tender Loving Care, 1966.

NancyNaturally, 1966.

Just for Now, 1967.

Lush Life, 1967.

Welcome to My Love, 1968.

Easy, 1968.

The Best of Nancy Wilson, 1968.

Sound of Nancy Wilson, 1968.

Nancy, 1969.

Son of a Preacher Man, 1969.

Close Up, 1969.

Hurt So Bad, 1969.

Cant Take My Eyes Off You, 1970.

Now Im a Woman, 1970.

Double Play, 1971.

Right to Love, 1971.

But Beautiful, 1971.

I Know Him I Love Him, 1973.

All in Love Is Fair, 1974.

Come Get to This, 1975.

This Mothers Daughter, 1976.

Ive Never Been to Me, 1977.

Music on My Mind, 1978.

Life, Love & Harmony, 1979.

Take My Love, 1980.

On Columbia Records

(With Ramsey Lewis) The Two of Us, 1986.

Keep You Satisfied, 1986.

Forbidden Lover, 1987.

Nancy Now!, 1990.

With My Lover Beside Me, 1991.

Love, Nancy, 1994.

Other

At My Best, A.S.I., 1981.

Echoes of an Era, Elektra, 1982.

Whats New, EMI (Japan), 1982.

Your Eyes, Nippon Columbia, 1983.

Ill Be a Song, Interface (Japan), 1983.

Godsend, Interface (Japan), 1984.

(With the Crusaders) The Good and Bad Times, MCA, 1986.

Sources

Chicago Tribune, May 22, 1994, Section 6, p. 6.

Ebony, May 1966, pp. 140-46; May 1973, pp. 30-40; November 1987, pp. 116-19.

Essence, October 1986, p. 55; May 1992, p. 70.

Jet, April 7, 1986, pp. 30-31; July 28, 1986; March 16, 1987, p. 16; October 22, 1990, p. 11; June 27, 1994, pp. 58-61.

Newsweek, July 27, 1964, p. 76.

Time, July 17, 1964, p. 61.

Vibe, March 1995.

Anne Janette Johnson

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Wilson, Nancy

Nancy Wilson

Singer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Self-taught jazz, pop, and rhythm and blues vocalist Nancy Wilson released her first album, Like in Love, in April of 1960 and went on to record 55 more albums between 1960 and 1994. Wilsons unique vocal style melds a jazzy elegance with an earthy, heartfelt blues timbre, and more than 30 of her LPs between 1960 and 1976 were prominent on the Billboard music charts.

Wilson is noted for choosing songs with lyrics that tell a compelling tale as well as provide melodic pleasure. The singer strives to avoid being categorized into a particular musical slotsuch as jazz, pop, or bluesand prefers to be classified only as a song stylist. Adept at creating an array of musical moods, she upholds in her songs the theme of timeless love. Wilson balks at being dubbed a jazz singer, telling Zan Stewart of the Los Angeles Times, I dont scat I just sing my songs. She added, If the material doesnt have feeling and warmth, I dont want to do it. My strongest suit is the big ballad.

In the course of her long career, Wilson has also ventured into the realm of television, garnering an Emmy Award for NBCs The Nancy Wilson Show: Red, Hot, & Cool, which was televised in 1967 and 1968. On the Fox television comedy Sinbad, Wilson portrayed the comedians mother, Louise, in 1993 and 1994. She has also enjoyed cameo appearances on The Tonight Show, I Spy, The Cosby Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Hawaii Five-O, The Today Show, and Police Story Wilson gave talk-show host Arsenio Hall his first break when she asked him to open for her during a concert tour. As a result, she was a frequent guest on The Arsenio Hall Show.

Nancy Wilson was born in Chillicothe, a small town in southern Ohio, and was raised in Columbus, Ohio. She knew by the age of four that she had a strong singing voice. She sang in church choirs throughout her childhood, attempting to emulate such early influences as Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Ruth Brown, Louis Jordan, Billy Eckstine, and Jimmy Scott. By the time Wilson was in her mid-teens, she was performing in theater clubs in the Columbus area and perfecting her sultry signature style. She also appeared on the local television show Skyline Melody

Two of Wilsons grounding influences were her mother and stepmother, both of whom provided constant encouragement and unflagging emotional support. By the time she was a teen, Wilson had moved in with her father, Olden, and stepmother, Bertha. Wilsons mother lived only a few blocks away, and along with her six younger siblings, Nancy was raised in an atmosphere of strong family unity and community ties.

For the Record

Born February 20, 1937, in Chillicothe, OH; daughter of Olden (an iron foundry worker) and Lillian (a housekeeper) Wilson; married Kenny Dennis (a drummer), 1960 (divorced 1970); married Reverend Wiley Burton; children: (first marriage) Kenneth Kacy Dennis Jr. Wilson; (second marriage) Samantha, Sheryl. Education: Attended Central State College in Ohio.

Began singing in church choirs as a child; performed in theater clubs in Columbus, OH, area and appeared on local television show Skyline Melody as a teen; toured U.S. and Canada with Rusty Bryants Carolyn Club Band; New York Institute of Technology, New York City, secretary, beginning in 1959; signed with Capitol Records, 1959, and released debut album, Like in Love, 1960. Television appearances include The Nancy Wilson Show: Red, Hot, & Cool, 1967-68; Sinbad, 1993-94; and guest spots on The Tonight Show, I Spy, The Cosby Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Hawaii Five-O, The Today Show, and Police Story.

Selected awards: Grammy Award, 1964, for How Glad I Am; Grammy Award nominations, 1965, for Gentle Is My Love, 1988, for Forbidden Lover, and 1994, for With My Lover Beside Me; Emmy Award for The Nancy Wilson Show: Red, Hot, & Cool; winner of Tokyo Song Festival, 1983; received star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1990; Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Essence Award, 1992; Martin Luther King Center for Social Change award, 1993; Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award for Outstanding Achievement, 1994; Whitney M. Young Award; honorary doctorate from Berkeley College of Music.

Addresses: Management Lynn Coles Productions, P.O. Box 93-1198, Los Angeles, CA 90093.

After Wilson graduated from high school in Ohio, she attended Central State College, planning to be a teacher. She left school, however, in favor of touring with Rusty Bryants Carolyn Club Band in Columbus and performed for three years throughout the United States and Canada. While touring, Wilson met jazz saxophonist Julian Cannonball Adderley, who became a close friend and would later record an album with her.

Adderley helped Wilson define her professional goals, which were to remain a solo recording artist, record albums for Capitol Records, and to persuade Adder-leys manager, John Levy, to work with her. Upon moving to New York City in 1959, the singer gave herself six months to reach these goals. She worked as a secretary by day at the New York Institute of Technology and sang four evenings a week in nightclubs. Within only three weeks, Wilson attained all three of her goals: she recorded two solo demos, John Levy became her manager, and she signed with Capitol Records.

In 1960 Wilson married drummer Kenny Dennis and had a son, Kenneth Kacy Dennis Jr. Wilson. After ten years together, the couple divorced in 1970; Wilson would eventually marry Reverend Wiley Burton of Pittsburgh and have two daughters, Samantha Burton and Sheryl Burton.

Also in 1960, Wilson released her debut album, Like in Love. The singers first recorded single was a heartrending version of Guess Who I Saw Today? Her second album, Something Wonderful, followed six months later. In early 1961, she released The Swingins Mutual, and her first big rhythm and blues hit, Save Your Love for Me, was put out in 1962.

In 1964 Wilson received a Grammy Award for How Glad I Am and a year later earned a Grammy nomination for Gentle Is My Love. Wilsons third Grammy nomination came in 1988 for Forbidden Lover, and her fourth followed in 1992 for With My Lover Beside Me.

Wilson learns songs by listening to the melody as opposed to learning how to read music. A large part of her success is due to two factors: instinctually knowing which songs best set off her rich, flexible voice and choosing memorable, classic songs to record. The Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn composition Day Dream, Bonnie Raitts I Cant Make You Love Me, and Stephen Sondheims I Remember are examples of songs that Wilson successfully chose to showcase her vocal talents. Other works, including Wilsons 1991 album With My Lover Beside Me, which features a collection of previously unpublished lyrics written by Johnny Mercer setto music by Barry Manilow, were further evidence of her distinctive taste.

In 1994 Wilson released her fifty-fifth album, Love, Nancy. Reviewer Harry Allen commented in Vibe, With naked emotion as her fuel, Wilsons voice usually blasts through her orchestral ballads like a blowtorch through candle wax. Wilson expressed to Allen that she values popular singers like Anita Baker and Regina Belle, noting, Theyve got emotion very much like me. She continued, There are some really phenomenal voices out there. We just need people to write material that matters.

In addition to her active recording career, Wilson has an abiding interest in charity work and has contributed generously to the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the National Heart Association, the Cancer Society, and the United Negro College Fund. She was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990, and has received awards such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Image Award, a 1994 Trumpet Award for outstanding achievement from the Turner Broadcasting Company, the 1992 Essence Award, the Whitney M. Young Award, and an honorary doctorate from the Berkeley College of Music. She was also the winner of the 1983 Tokyo Song Festival. In addition to her philanthropic endeavors, Wilson successfullyand tirelesslydivides her time between family, concert tours, and television work.

Selected discography

On Capitol Records

Like in Love, 1960.

Something Wonderful, 1960.

The Swingins Mutual, 1961.

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley Quintet, 1962.

Hello Young Lovers, 1962.

BroadwayMy Way 1963.

HollywoodMy Way, 1963.

Yesterdays Love Songs, Todays Blues, 1963.

Today, Tomorrow, Forever, 1964.

How Glad I Am, 1964.

The Nancy Wilson Show at the Coconut Grove, 1965.

Nancy Wilson Today My Way, 1965.

Gentle Is My Love, 1965.

From Broadway With Love, 1966.

A Touch of Love Today, 1966.

Tender Loving Care, 1966.

NancyNaturally, 1966.

Just for Now, 1967.

Lush Life, 1967.

Welcome to My Love, 1968.

Easy, 1968.

The Best of Nancy Wilson, 1968.

Sound of Nancy Wilson, 1968.

Nancy, 1969.

Son of a Preacher Man, 1969.

Close Up, 1969.

Hurt So Bad, 1969.

Cant Take My Eyes off You, 1970.

Now Im a Woman, 1970.

Double Play, 1971.

Right to Love, 1971.

But Beautiful, 1971.

I Know I Love Him, 1973.

All in Love Is Fair, 1974.

Come Get to This, 1975.

This Mothers Daughter, 1976.

Ive Never Been to Me, 1977.

Music on My Mind, 1978.

Life, Love & Harmony, 1979.

Take My Love, 1980.

Other

At My Best, A.S.I., 1981.

Echoes of an Era, Elektra, 1982.

Whats New, EMI (Japan), 1982.

Your Eyes, Nippon Columbia, 1983.

Ill Be a Song, Interface (Japan), 1983.

Godsend, Interface (Japan), 1984.

(With Ramsey Lewis) The Two of Us, Columbia, 1986.

(With the Crusaders) The Good and Bad Times, MCA, 1986.

Keep You Satisfied, Columbia, 1986.

Forbidden Lover, Columbia, 1987.

Nancy Now!, Columbia, 1988.

A Lady With a Song, Columbia, 1990.

With My Lover Beside Me, Columbia, 1991.

Love, Nancy, Columbia, 1994.

Sources

Books

Gillett, Charlie, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Dutton, 1970.

Periodicals

Black Voice News, April 24, 1994.

Ebony, June 1992; January 1993; July 1994.

Essence, May 1992.

Jet, February 24, 1992; April 20, 1992.

Los Angeles Times, March 27, 1994; December 17, 1993.

Macleans, August 12, 1991.

People, November 22, 1993.

Rexburg Standard Journal, April 14, 1994.

San Francisco Examiner, December 19, 1993.

Time, January 17, 1994.

Vibe, March 1995.

B. Kimberly Taylor

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Wilson, Nancy

Nancy Wilson

Singer, actress

For the Record

Solo Career

Top-selling Singer

Resisted Electronic Age

Television, Film, and Charitable Work

Selected discography

Sources

African American jazz singer Nancy Wilson, known for her old-fashioned glamour and timeless, sultry voice, has become a legendary entertainer and enjoyed a career that has endured over 40 years. However, Wilson defied and resisted labels that many used to describe her style. Not only has she been a renowned jazz singer and balladeer, but she has also performed cabaret, sophisticated pop, and rhythm and blues. Placing her music in any one or all of such categories denies what Wilson felt her songs represented. Im a song-stylistalthough I have been pigeonholed as a jazz singer, Wilson asserted in a 1994 cover story by Robert E. Johnson published in Jet magazine. And Essence magazine writer Audrey Edwards, in May of 1992, described the singer as an artist of such enduring talent, class and elegance that she doesnt just defy the labels, she transcends them. Moreover, Wilson believed that her music cut across class and race. I didnt know I was a Black artist until I was nominated for a Grammy in a Black category, she told continued. The music, rather than racial categories is what people identify me with. With 60 albums to her name, beginning with her 1960 debut Like in Love through her 1997 release If I Had My Way, Wilson and her music have surpassed the longevity of most, garnering fans of all races and ages.

The oldest in a family of six children, Nancy Wilson was born on February 20, 1937, in the small southern Ohio town of Chillico the, where she spent many of her formative years and where she attended Burnside Heights Elementary School. Wilsons parents, Olden and Lillian (Ryan) Wilson, were hard-working and raised their children in a close-knit environment. Her mother labored as a domestic, while her father worked in an iron foundry. Throughout her childhood, Wilson, along with her brothers Anthony and Michael and sisters Rita, Brenda, and Karen, often spent summers in the company of their grandmother at her home on Whiskey Run Road just outside of Columbus, Ohio. It was during these extended family get-togethers that Wilson first delighted audiences with her singing. A vocalist who never took part in formal voice training and often referred to her ability as a gift, Wilson realized at the tender age of four that her goal was to sing professionally.

In her hometown of Chillicothe and later in Columbus, where her family moved when Wilson reached her teens, she developed her skills singing in church choirs and emulating the styles of a variety of post-war American music. Some of her favorite musical legends included Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, LaVern Baker, Louis Jordan, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, and her self-proclaimed greatest influence, Little Jimmy Scott. Wilsons own career began to take shape at the age of 15 after she won a local talent contest in Columbus and was

For the Record

Born February 20, 1937, in Chillico the, OH; daughter of Olden and Lillian (Ryan) Wilson; married Kenneth C. Dennis (a drummer; divorced, 1970); married Wiley Burton (a minister), 1974; children: (first marriage) Kenneth Kacy; (second marriage) Samantha, Sheryl. Education: Attended Central State College in Wilber-force, OH, 1955. Memberships include Presidential Council for Minority Business Enterprises; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Operation PUSH (chairperson); United Negro College Fund; and Committee for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Sang in church choirs and clubs, Columbus, OH, early 1950s; star of local television show, Skyline Melodies, Columbus, OH, 1952-54; member of Rusty Bryants Carolyn Club Big Band, 1956-58; released first album, Like in Love, for Capitol Records, 1959; hosted The Nancy Wilson Show, 1967-68; released sixtieth album, If I Had My Way, 1997. Made numerous appearances on variety shows, including The Ed Sullivan Show, The Flip Wilson Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Tonight Show, and The Arsenio Hall Show; guest starred on numerous television series; had roles in the films The Big Score and Meteor Man. Cofounder, Nancy Wilson Foundation, which introduces inner-city youth to rural settings.

Awards: Grammy Award, 1964, for How Glad I Am; Emmy Award, 1975, for The Nancy Wilson Show; winner, Tokyo Song Festival, 1983; Global Entertainer of the Year, World Conference of Mayors, 1986; Image Award, NAACP, 1986; star, Hollywood Walk of Fame, 1990; Essence Award, Essence magazine, 1992; Whitney Young Jr. Award, Urban League, 1992; Martin Luther King Center for Social Change Award, 1993; Turner Broadcasting Trumpet Award for Outstanding Achievement, 1994.

Addresses: Record company Columbia Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, (310) 449-2100 Management c/o Devra Enterprises, 361 W. California Ave. 8, Glendale, CA 91203.

awarded her own television series, Skyline Melodies, for a local station. The show, which was also broadcast on local radio, featured Wilson singing phoned-in requests. Even then, her repertoire included a wide range of musical styles, from jazz and big band to the pop, ballad, and torch song categories. In addition to performing on her television/radio show, Wilson started singing live shows everywhere she could at local clubs in and around Columbus.

Although continuing as an entertainer remained Wilsons primary goal, she decided to play itsafe when she graduated in 1955 from West High School in Columbus, entering college in order to obtain her teaching credentials. However, after only one year as an education major at Ohios Central State College, the singer dropped out in order to follow her original dreams, auditioning for and subsequently joining Rusty Bryants Carolyn Club Big Band in 1956. As the ensembles female vocalist, Wilson spent much of the next three years touring the United States and Canada with the Carolyn Club Big Band. Her association with Bryant also produced her first, and now rare, recording for Dot Records.

In the meantime, while performing in Columbus, Wilson made another important connection that helped to build her career when she had the opportunity to sit in with jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who immediately sensed her enormous potential. Adderley, who would prove a major influence on Wilsons future in the recording business, convinced the talented singer to move away from the pop performance style and emphasize the more sophisticated jazz and ballad material. Taking Adderleys advice, the pair started performing together from time to time and later recorded an album together, 1962s Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, which was recorded with Adderleys quintet and became a jazz classic.

Solo Career

Following her stint with Bryants band, Wilson decided in 1959 to relocate to New York City, hoping to establish herself as a solo entertainer. Upon her arrival, she accepted a job as a secretary at the New York Institute of Technology, where she worked days in order to support herself until she got a break, and also started singing at clubs at night. More than anything, Wilson desperately wanted to record for one of the most respected labels of the day, Capitol Records, though she realized the possibility of waiting months or even years to earn such an offer. However, with only four weeks under her belt in New York, Wilson received her first important assignment: to fill in for singer Irene Reid at an established nightclub. That evening, Wilson gave such a stellar performance that the club owner wanted to book the singer on a permanent basis. Still holding on to her secretarial job to supplement her income, Wilson sang four nights a week at the nightclub, and the public, as well as record producers and agents, quickly took notice. One night, John Levy, a well-known figure in the music business and manager to Adderley, came to the club to hear her sing. Because of her friendship with Adderley, not to mention her undeniable talent, Levy offered his help and set about arranging a session to record a demonstration tape. He would continue to manage Wilsons affairs throughout her entertainment career.

At the scheduled session, Wilson recorded the songs Guess Who I Saw Today and Sometimes Im Happy. Within a week after Levy sent the tapes to Capitol Records, Wilson had signed a contract with the label. Capitol, known for its outstanding roster of singers who performed the standard ballad repertoire, proved a fortunate first home for Wilson. Suddenly, she found herself in the company of world-renowned stars like Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee, in addition to some of the industrys most cherished lyricists and composers. Her first album for Capitol, Like in Love, arrived in April of 1960, and she scored her first hit with a rhythm and blues song recorded with Adderley entitled Save Your Love for Me in 1962.

Also that year, Capitol released her second album, Something Wonderful, which included one of the songs used on her demo tape Guess Who I Saw Today. Although only a moderate hit at the time of its release, Guess Who I Saw Today, a song about infidelity, remained her most requested number well into the late 1990s and became her signature song. It is one of those experiences everybody can relate to, she explained to Stewart Weiner in a 1999 interview for Palm Springs Life magazine. Wilsons audience further broadened the following year with the song Tell Me the Truth, and between April of 1960 and July of 1962, Capitol issued five of the singers albums. These early accomplishments set a frenetic pace for Wilson and her first husband, drummer Kenny Dennis, who married in 1960. Before long, Wilson found herself performing more than 40 weeks out of the year, at times giving two shows a night at top clubs such as the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Top-selling Singer

By the mid-1960s, Wilson was one of her labels best-selling artist, second only to the Beatles. An uninhibited performer who included jazz-styled pop in her repertoire and proudly displayed her glamorous good looks, she even surpassed established entertainers such as Cole, Lee, and the popular West Coast rock and roll group the Beach Boys in sales. In 1964, she won a Grammy Award for best rhythm and blues recording for the album How Glad I Am. Four other Grammy nominations since followed this honor, including a nomination for Gentle Is My Love in 1965. As 1966 approached, Wilson was earning a generous income in excess of $1 million per year, and her rise in popularity showed no sign of slowing down. In addition to enjoying stardom in the United States, she had also established a significant fanbase overseas, especially in Japan, where she would remain a favorite for years to come.

As a result of her recognized depth and diverse talent, Wilson saw other opportunities within the entertainment industry arise. From the mid-1960s and 1970s, the singer headlined shows in Las Vegas that had been booked two years in advance, performed at the most sophisticated supper clubs, and received offers for television work. During the 1967-68 season, she hosted her own top-rated television program on NBC called The Nancy Wilson Show, for which she won an Emmy Award. All the while, Wilson maintained a seamless string of hit records, repeatedly garnering top honors for both Billboard and Playboy magazines music polls.

Despite her efforts to juggle a family, constant touring and recording, and a television career, Wilsons busy schedule took a toll on her personal life. In 1970, Wilson divorced her first husband, with whom she had one son, Kenneth (Kacy) Dennis, Jr., in 1963, and that same year married Reverend Wiley Burton. Wilson had two more children with her second husband, daughters Samantha Burton, born in 1975, and Sheryl Burton, born in 1976. Learning from past experiences, Wilson curtailed her professional engagements somewhat after marrying Burton. In 1973, for example, she opted not to perform in supper clubs, although she did perform concert dates in South America and Japan. Nonetheless, her decision to focus on her family made little if any impact on her stardom. In fact, Wilson herself believed that performing less actually improved her shows, noting that not playing in the same venue for two to four weeks straight gave a freshness and excitement to her singing. In the mid-1970s, Wilson and Burton bought a homewhich grew to occupy over 17,000 square feet by late 1999140 miles away from Los Angeles in the California high desert. Wilson moved to the rural location Pioneertown, made famous as the background landscape for the Roy Rogers television series, to raise her children.

Resisted Electronic Age

As the next decade approached, many record companies, especially those involved with pop and rhythm and blues artists, started using technical enhancements for album production. Wilson, who preferred to record her songs live, resisted such innovations that might alter the sound of her voice and never wanted to release a record that she was unable to perform before an audience. Therefore, since most labels in the United States declined to meet her standards, Wilson spent the 1980s primarily recording for Japanese labels. Theyve allowed me to sing so that I can sing, she told Jet magazine in 1986. I cant sing for a splice in the middle. I say Well do it from the top until you get what you want. The day the music died, is the day when they stopped recording live, they started doing things you cant reproduce live. She expressed a similar, though somewhat more resigned, sentiment later in 1999. When we were recording those Capitol albums, all of the musicians were in the same room playing, she recalled to Weiner. Now, you record all by yourself with headphones on. Without losing her fans in the United States, Wilson further endeared herself to legions of Japanese jazz enthusiasts during these years. In 1983, she was declared the winner of the annual Tokyo Song Festival and released a total of five acclaimed albums for Japanese labels. Back in the United States, Wilson started recording for Columbia Records as well, beginning in 1984 with a collaborative effort, The Two of Us, that also featured pianist/keyboardist Ramsey Lewis.

With her children grown, Wilson found more time to devote to her career during the 1990s. In addition to maintaining a busy touring and recording schedule and expanding her acting interests, she was honored in 1990 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Around the same time, she worked on a landmark album of previously unpublished lyrics by legendary songwriter Johnny Mercer set to the music of co-producer Barry Manilow. The Mercer tribute album, With My Lover Beside Me, was released in 1991. Several other albums followed, including her fifty-fourth full-length recording, a collection of love songs entitled Love, Nancy, released in 1994, as well as her sixtieth album, If I Had My Way, released in 1997. In 1998, Wilson received a Playboy readers poll award for best female jazz vocalist and resumed her radio career by hosting the National Public Radio (NPR) Jazz Profiles series. That same year, Wilson suffered the loss of both her parents, who both died in November of 1998. Wilson continued to work steadily through this time, which she referred to as the most difficult year of her life. The following year, Wilson honored one of jazz musics most legendary singers, Ella Fitzgerald, when she hosted a biography television special entitled Forever Ella, which aired on the A & E cable television network.

Television, Film, and Charitable Work

Wilson took advantage of other opportunities in both television and film. Her film roles included Robert Townsends Meteor Man and The Big Score, with Fred Williamson and Richard Roundtree. She appeared on The Sinbad Show and in a recurring role in the number one-rated series The Cosby Show. Her other work in television series included guest roles for I Spy, Room 222, Police Story, OHara: U.S. Treasury, The F.B.I., and Hawaii Five-O. Some of her other television appearances included performances for The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Today Show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show, The Flip Wilson Show, The Andy Wilson Show, and The Carol Burnett Show. Her own television special, Nancy Wilson in Concert, aired in 1989, and the singer made frequent appearances on both The Lou Rawls Parade of Stars and the March of Dimes Telethon.

Throughout her years as an entertainer, Wilson devoted considerable time and money to numerous charitable causes, such as the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the Cancer Society, the Minority Aids Project, the National Urban Coalition, and the Warwick Foundation. Organizations that honored Wilson for her dedication included the United Negro College Fund, the Urban League, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Her family also established the Nancy Wilson Foundation to enable inner-city children to visit the country and experience alternate lifestyles. She earned an honorary degree from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, for her contributions to music, and although she never finished college, Central State College presented her with an honorary degree, an accolade that reflects the teacher that she really was in her song and compassionate nature. In 1992, the Urban League presented Wilson with the Whitney Young Jr. Award, while Essence magazine rated the singer as one of jazz musics current grand divas.

During her prolific and enduring career as an entertainer, Wilson witnessed the dramatic changes within the music industry. Its now a record industrywhereas the business before emphasized nightclub performing, concerts, television appearances as well as recording records, she said to Edwards, recalling the entertainment industry of times past. Although she misses the era that gave birth to what many call the real singers, like Joyce Bryant, Lena Horne, and Wilson herself, she insisted that the modern times have produced talent as well. I love Oleta Adams, Wilson continued. And Regina Belle, Anita Baker, Phyllis Hyman. These women have a lot of power and are doing some meaty material. The music is good. In addition, Wilsons daughters have introduced their mother to hip-hop artists such as Mary J. Blige, who she also came to admire. Nonetheless, Wilson looked back on her days with Capitol with a sense of nostalgia. It was the wonder years there, she told Weiner. Look at the artists who were recording for Capitol: Nat King Cole, Dakota Stanton, Peggy Lee, Dean Martin And, of course, Frank Sinatra! When asked what made the label so different, Wilson replied, It was owned by Johnny Mercer, she explained. And there was such a feeling of family. However, Wilson adapted with her usual grace and eased into the 1990s and beyond, bringing her stylish music to a whole new generation. Now entering into her fifth decade as a professional singer, Wilson planned to record and perform for many years to come, singing songs that have stood the test of time.

Selected discography

Like in Love, Capitol, 1960.

Something Wonderful, 1960.

The Swingins Mutual, 1961.

Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley, Capitol, 1962.

Hello Young Lovers, 1962.

BroadwayMy Way, 1963.

HollywoodMy Way, 1963.

Yesterdays Love Songs, Todays Blues, 1963.

Today, Tomorrow, Forever, 1964.

How Glad I Am, 1964.

The Nancy Wilson Show at the Coconut Grove, 1965.

Nancy Wilson TodayMy Way, 1965.

Gentle Is My Love, 1965.

From Broadway With Love, 1966.

A Touch of Love Today, 1966.

Tender Loving Care, 1966.

NancyNaturally, 1966.

Just for Now, 1967.

Lush Life, 1967.

Welcome to My Love, 1968.

Easy, 1968.

The Best of Nancy Wilson, 1968.

Sound of Nancy Wilson, 1968.

Nancy, 1969.

Son of a Preacher Man, 1969.

Close Up, 1969.

Hurt So Bad, 1969.

Cant Take My Eyes Off You, 1970.

Now Im a Woman, 1970.

Double Play, 1971.

Right to Love, 1971.

I Know I Love Him, 1973.

All in Love Is Fair, 1974.

Come Get to This, 1975.

This Mothers Daughter, Capitol, 1976.

Ive Never Been to Me, 1977.

Music on My Mind, 1978.

Life, Love and Harmony, 1979.

Take My Love, 1980.

At My Best, ASI Records, 1981.

Echoes of an Era, Elektra, 1982.

Whats New, EMI Japan, 1982.

Ill Be a Song, Interface, 1984.

(With Ramsey Lewis) The Two of Us, Columbia, 1986.

Keep You Satisfied, Columbia, 1986.

Forbidden Lover, Epic/Sony, 1987.

Nancy Now!, Epic/Sony, 1990.

With My Lover Beside Me, Columbia, 1991.

The Best of Nancy Wilson, Epic/Sony, 1992.

(With Grover Washington) Next Exit, 1992.

Color and Light, 1994.

(With the Boston Pops Orchestra) It Dont Mean a Thing, Sony Classical, 1994.

Joyful Christmas, Columbia, 1994.

Love, Nancy, Columbia, 1994.

(With Quincy Jones and others) Jook Joint, 1995.

Spotlight on Nancy Wilson, Capitol, 1995.

Ballads, Blues and Big Bands, (Box set), Capitol, 1996.

If I Had My Way, Columbia, 1997.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 10, Gale Research, 1995.

Notable Black American Women, Book 1, Gale Research, 1992.

Pavletich, Aida, Rock-A-Bye, Baby, Doubleday, 1980.

Whos Who Among African Americans, 12th edition, Gale Group, 1999.

Periodicals

American Visions, June/July 1997, pp. 28-32.

Billboard, April 26, 1997, pp. 30-32.

Ebony, July 1994, p. 24.

Essence, May 1992, pp. 65-72.

Jet, July 28, 1986; June 27, 1994, pp. 58-61; March 10, 1997, p.36; December 21, 1998, p. 63.

Palm Springs Life, December 1999, pp. 56-59.

Online

Nancy Wilson, http://www.missnancywilson.com (February 4, 2000).

Laura Hightower

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