Photo: Steve Granitz/Getty Images
Nancy Wilson, Legendary Vocalist And Jazz Icon, Dies At 81
Legendary vocalist, actor, and pillar of the jazz community Nancy Wilson died on Dec. 13 at her home in Pioneertown, Calif., after a long battle with illness. She was 81.
In her nearly six-decade career, Wilson touched many musical genres. Known for her unique vocal phrasing, sultry tone and prowess for turning songs into stories, her catalog weaved through jazz, R&B and pop. She worked with the likes of Cannonball Adderley and George Shearing and toured with Sarah Vaughan, Ruth Brown, Nat “King” Cole and more.
Born on Feb. 27, 1937 in Chillicothe, Ohio, Wilson arrived on the scene in 1961 with her debut single, “Guess Who I Saw Today.” Three years later, her breakout moment came with “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which earned Wilson her first GRAMMY Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Recording for the 7th GRAMMY Awards. The song also climbed to No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot 100, giving Wilson the biggest chart hit of her career.
Wilson went on to win two additional GRAMMYs in the Best Jazz Vocal Album category for her 2004 album R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) at the 47th GRAMMY Awards and the follow-up, 2006’s Turned To Blue at the 49th GRAMMY Awards, the title track of which came from a Maya Angelou poem.
From 1996 through 2005, Nancy Wilson hosted NPR’s “Jazz Profiles,” a documentary series profiling the legends and legacy of jazz.
“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, says Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow. “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.”
Wilson is survived by her three children and five grandchildren. In accordance with Wilson’s last wishes, a celebration of her life will be held in lieu of a funeral service. Details are forthcoming.
Wilson’s legacy lives on in the recordings she leaves behind for posterity as well as in the immeasurable influence she’s had on the countless artists who have followed the guidance of her light and the generations to come.