Nancy Wilson is an award-winning song stylist with a decades-long career, known for traversing genres that include classic pop, R&B and jazz.
Born on February 20, 1937, in Chillicothe, Ohio, Nancy Wilson established a singing career as a youth, going on to record her debut Like in Love and working with the likes of jazz great Cannonball Adderley. The Grammy-winning vocalist has released scores of albums over the decades in the worlds of pop, jazz and soul, scoring hits like “Guess Who I Saw Today” and also establishing a TV career.
Background and Early Career
Nancy Wilson was born on February 20, 1937, in Chillicothe, Ohio, though she grew up not far from Columbus. She was the oldest of six siblings and began singing at the age of 4, receiving great encouragement from her family and influenced by the sounds of “Little” Jimmy Scott, Dinah Washington, Lavern Baker and Nat King Cole, among others. Having gained experience singing in church, Wilson landed a gig performing twice a week as a teen on her own local television show, Skyline Melody.
She later studied at Central State College, thinking of becoming an educator, but opted instead to follow her passion for song. As a North American touring artist, Wilson met famed jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, who gave her advice on the shaping of her career. She moved to New York in 1959 and quickly was able to secure a recording deal with Capitol Records, with Adderley’s manager John Levy taking Wilson on as a client as well.
Songs With Cannonball
Wilson made her album debut with Like in Love (1959), followed by Something Wonderful the following year. She became one of the biggest selling acts of the time with songs that included the string-laden, testifiyin’ “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which was a Top 20 pop and No. 2 adult contemporary hit. After working with the George Shearing Quintet and conductor/composer Billy May, she and Adderley joined forces for a 1962 album which featured the R&B gem “Save Your Love for Me.”
Cultivating the image of a poised yet passionate sophisticate, Wilson is known for her distinct, nuanced vocals. She has presented tunes that have pointed spoken sections as seen with “Guess Who I Saw Today” and “I’ll Get Along Somehow.” The stylist has recorded dozens of albums over the years, eventually switching from Capitol to Columbia, and making an impact on classic pop, soul, jazz and adult contemporary audiences with a captivating stage presence. Her work in the first decade of the 2000s saw her collaborate on two-full length recordings with pianist Ramsey Lewis along with a bevy of other artists on later outings.
Wilson had her own variety series in the ’60s, the Emmy-winning The Nancy Wilson Show, and has also made appearances in a variety of other programs, including The Ed Sullivan Show, Hawaii Five-O, The Carol Burnett Show, Sinbad and The Arsenio Hall Show. (Hall had gotten his break opening for Wilson during one of her tours.)
By early 2014, Wilson had received multiple Grammy Award nominations and won three, including trophies for best rhythm & blues recording for “How Glad I Am” and best jazz vocal album prizes for R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal) (2004) and Turned to Blue (2006). Wilson has also won the 2002 George Foster Peabody Award for her NPR radio show, Jazz Profiles, a series that ran from the mid-1990s to 2005.