Nancy Wilson (1937-2018), an extraordinary singer who will be missed
19 December 2018
Nancy Wilson, one of the most active and distinctive American jazz and pop singers during the late 20th century and the first few years of the 21st, passed away after a long bout with kidney cancer on December 13. She was 81.
Ms. Wilson was a familiar and popular figure. She appeared regularly as an actor on television and in films, and for seven years her silky and mellifluous voice narrated the marvelous “Jazz Profiles” series for National Public Radio.
Raised by jazz-loving, working-class parents (her father an iron foundry worker, her mother a maid) in Chillicothe, Ohio, Ms. Wilson’s talent for singing emerged during childhood. By the age of 15 she was performing locally, including on television station WTVN, before completing high school and one year of college. Ms. Wilson then committed to a career in music and toured the Midwest and Canada with a minor dance band.
She recorded first for the uneven Dot label, which had started out with country western, but moved to New York City in 1959 and quickly hit the big time with Capitol Records, the home of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and the Stan Kenton Orchestra.
Capitol issued five well-recorded, popular and aesthetically pleasing albums of hers during the next two years, along with a number of hit singles, including “Guess Who I Saw Today,” which remained the singer’s signature tune.
From the beginning, Ms. Wilson inhabited the nether world between jazz, pop and rhythm-and-blues, with one foot firmly planted in the commercial world, but without ever compromising her gifts. Like one of her primary influences, Anita O ’Day, Ms. Wilson considered herself a “song stylist” rather than a jazz…