Thursday, September 9, 2010

Nancy Wilson, jazz vocalist

On February 20, 1937, Nancy Wilson was the first of six children born to Olden and Lillian Ryan Wilson in Chillicothe, Ohio. Nancy's father would buy records to listen to at home and at an early age Nancy heard recordings from Billy Eckstine, Nat Cole and Jimmy Scott with Lionel Hampton's Big Band. Nancy says, "The juke joint down on the block had a great jukebox and there I heard Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, LaVerne Baker and Little Esther Phillips".

Nancy 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 four, she knew she would eventually become a singer.

At the age of fifteen, while a student at West High School in Columbus, 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 fifteen until she graduated from high school, at age seventeen.

Unsure of her future as an entertainer, she entered Central State University in Xenia, Ohio, to pursue teaching. She spent one year in college before dropping out to follow her original ambitions. She was singing with Rusty Bryant's Carolyn Club in 1956. She toured with them throughout Canada and the Midwest in the late 1950s and while with Bryant and pianist Hank Marr, Nancy made her first recordings.

When Nancy 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 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, singing four nights a week and working as a secretary during the day. John Levy sent demos to Capitol Records and they signed her in 1960.

Nancy’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, 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 and produced an album, Nancy Wilson/Cannonball, which propelled her to national prominence. Between March, 1964 and June, 1965, four of Wilson's albums hit the Top Ten 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 and garnering critical acclaim from coast to coast.

In 1964 Nancy released what became her most successful hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with (You Don't Know) How Glad I Am which peaked at number eleven. She successfully juggled her personal life and her career and nearly fifty years later she is still a grand dame of jazz vocals.

In November 1998, both of her parents died; she calls this year the most difficult year of her life. In March 2008, she was hospitalized for lung complications, recovered and claimed to be doing well. In the same year, her husband, Wiley Burton, died after suffering from renal cancer.

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