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Nancy Wilson Biography


Home > Music > N > Nancy Wilson > Biography


Born: 1937/02/20
Birth Place: Chillicothe, Ohio, U.S.
Years Active: 1956-present
Genres: Blues, Jazz, Cabaret, Pop, Soul


Nancy Wilson (born February 20, 1937) is an American singer from Chillicothe, Ohio. Wilson became aware of her talent while singing in church choirs, imitating singers as a young child,and performing in her grandmother's house during summer visits. By the age of 4, she knew she would eventually become a singer.

At the age of 15, while a student at West High School (Columbus, Ohio), she won a talent contest sponsored by local television station WTVN. The prize was an appearance on a twice-a-week television show, ”Skyline Melodies,” which she ended up hosting. She also worked clubs on the east side and north side of Columbus, Ohio, from the age of 15 until she graduated from West High School, at age 17.

Unsure of her future as an entertainer, she entered college to pursue teaching. She spent one year at Ohio's Central State College (now Central State University) before dropping out and following her original ambitions. She auditioned and won a spot with Rusty Bryant's Carolyn Club Big Band in 1956. She toured with them throughout Canada and the Midwest in 1956 to 1958. While in this group, Wilson made her first recording under Dots Records.

When Wilson met Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, he suggested that she should move to New York City, believing that the big city would be the venue in which her career could bloom. In 1959, she relocated to New York with a goal of obtaining Cannonball’s manager John Levy as her manager and Capitol Records as her label. Within four weeks of her arrival in New York she got her first big break, a call to fill in for Irene Reid at The Blue Morocco. The club booked Wilson on a permanent basis and she was singing four nights a week and working as a secretary for the New York Institute of Technology during the day. Levy sent demos “Guess Who I Saw Today,” “Sometimes I’m Happy” and two other songs to Capitol. Capitol Records signed her in 1960.

Wilson’s debut single, “Guess Who I Saw Today,” was so successful that between April 1960 and July 1962 Capitol Records released five Nancy Wilson albums. Her first album, “,Like in Love,” displayed her talent in rhythm and blues, with the hit R&B song “Save Your Love for Me.” Adderley suggested that she should steer away from her original pop style and gear her music toward jazz and ballads. In 1962, they collaborated, producing the album “Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley,” which propelled her to national prominence, and Wilson would later appear on Adderley's 1968 live album “In Person.”

Between March 1964 and June 1965, four of Wilson's albums hit the Top 10 on Billboard's Top LPs chart. In 1963 “Tell Me The Truth” became her first truly major hit, leading up to her performance at the Coconut Grove in 1964 – the turning point of her career, garnering critical acclaim from coast to coast. In 1964 Wilson released what became her most successful hit on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart with “(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am,” which peaked at #11. From 1963 to 1971 Wilson logged 11 songs on the Hot 100, including two Christmas singles. However, “Face It Girl, It's Over” was the only remaining non-Christmas song to crack the Top 40 for Wilson, reaching #29 in 1968.

After making numerous television guest appearances, Wilson eventually got her own series on NBC, “The Nancy Wilson Show” from 1967 to 1968), which won an Emmy in 1975. Over the years she has appeared on many popular television shows like, “I Spy,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Police Story,” “The Sammy Davis, Jr. Show,” “The Danny Kaye Show,””The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Andy Williams Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” and recently “Moesha” and “The Parkers.” She also appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Merv Griffith Show,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Arsenio Hall Show” and “The Flip Wilson Show.”

She was signed by Capitol Records in the late 1970s and in an attempt to broaden her appeal she cut the album “Life, Love and Harmony,” an album of soulful, funky dance cuts that included the track “Sunshine,” which was to become one of her most sought-after recordings (albeit among supporters of the rare soul scene with whom she would not usually register).

In the 1980s, she recorded five albums for Japanese labels because she preferred recording live, and American labels frequently did not give her that option. She gained such wide popularity that she was selected as the winner of the annual Tokyo Song Festivals. In 1982 she recorded with Hank Jones and the Great Jazz Trio. In that same year she recorded with Griffith Park Band whose members included Chick Corea and Joe Henderson. In 1987 she participated in a PBS show entitled “Newport Jazz ‘87” as the singer of a jazz trio with John Williams and Roy McCurdy.

In 1982 she also signed with CBS, her albums here included 1984’s “The Two of Us,” duets with Ramsey Lewis produced by Stanley Clarke; 1987’s “Forbidden Lover,” including the title-track duet with Carl Anderson; and “A Lady with a Song,” which became her 52nd album release in 1989. In 1989 “Nancy Wilson in Concert” played as a television special.[4]

In the early 1990s, Wilson recorded an album paying tribute to Johnny Mercer with co-producer Barry Manilow entitled “With My Lover Beside Me.” In this decade she also recorded two other albums, “Love, Nancy” and her 60th album “If I Had it My Way.” In the late 1990s, she teamed up with MCG Jazz, a youth-education program of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, nonprofit, minority-directed, arts and learning organization located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

All the proceeds from 2001's “A Nancy Wilson Christmas” went to support the work of MCG Jazz. Wilson was the host on NPR's “Jazz Profiles,” from 1996 to 2005. This series profiled the legends and legacy of jazz through music, interviews and commentary. Wilson and the program were the recipients of the George Foster Peabody Award in 2001.Wilson's second and third album with MCG Jazz, 2005’s “R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal)” and 2007’s “Turned to Blue,” both won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.