Remembering Nancy Wilson

February 20, 1937 – December 13, 2018

Singer Nancy Wilson passed away on December 13, 2018 at the age of 81.

Wilson was born February 20, 1937 in Chillicothe, Ohio.

She sang early on at family gatherings, school functions and her church choir, never having any formal training as a singer but knowing that that was what she wanted to do with her life.

She became a professional singer at 15, appeared on her own local television show (Skyline Melody), and sang in clubs.

Wilson only went to college for a brief time, dropping out in 1956 to sing with a group led by saxophonist Rusty Bryant.

That year she met Cannonball Adderley who is often given the credit for discovering her although she did not move to New York for another three years.

In 1959 in New York she worked as a receptionist during the day until her performances at clubs allowed her to become a fulltime singer; she was soon signed to the Capitol label and her first single was her trademark song “Guess Who I Saw Today.”

From the jazz standpoint, her best work took place during 1960-62 when she recorded five albums including the all-time classic Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley and The Swinging’s Mutual With George Shearing.

In 1963 she had a hit with “Tell Me The Truth,” and she recorded other worthy jazz-oriented sets in the 1960s but by the end of the decade she had largely switched her repertoire to light r&b, pop and cabaret.

A national celebrity by then, she worked as an actress, hosted the Nancy Wilson Show on television, and became famous far beyond the jazz world, keeping her fame and reputation as a tasteful singer throughout her life while occasionally looking back with nostalgia to her album with Cannonball Adderley.

Here is Nancy Wilson in her early prime as the star of an episode of Jazz Scene USA in 1962 hosted by Oscar Brown Jr.

-Scott Yanow