Nancy Wilson, the Grammy-winning "song stylist" and torch singer whose polished pop-jazz vocals made her a platinum artist and top concert performer, has died.
Wilson, who retired from touring in 2011, died after a long illness at her home in Pioneertown, a California desert community near Joshua Tree National Park, her manager and publicist Devra Hall Levy told The Associated Press late Thursday night. She was 81.
Influenced by Dinah Washington, Nat "King" Cole and other stars, Wilson covered everything from jazz standards to "Little Green Apples" and in the 1960s alone released eight albums that reached the top 20 on Billboard's pop charts. Sometimes elegant and understated, or quick and conversational and a little naughty, she was best known for such songs as her breakthrough "Guess Who I Saw Today" and the 1964 hit "(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am," which drew upon Broadway, pop and jazz.
She resisted being identified with a single category, especially jazz, and referred to herself as a "song stylist."
"The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s," she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. "I just never considered myself a jazz singer. I do not do runs and -- you know. I take a lyric and make it mine. I consider myself an interpreter of the lyric."
Wilson's dozens of albums included a celebrated collaboration with Cannonball Adderley, "Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley," a small group setting which understandably could be called jazz. "How Glad I Am" brought her a Grammy in 1965 for best R&B performance, and she later won Grammys for best jazz vocal album in 2005 and in 2007.
Wilson also had a busy career on television, film and radio, her credits including Hawaii Five-O, Police Story, and years hosting NPR's Jazz Profiles series. Active in the civil rights movement, including the Selma march of 1965, she received an NAACP Image Award in 1998.
Born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the eldest of six children of an iron foundry worker and a maid, Wilson sang in church as a girl and by age 4 had decided on her profession.
Her first album, Like in Love!, came out in 1959, and she had her greatest commercial success over the following decade despite contending at times with the latest sounds.
"It took me years to know what that question was about. Remember, I was constantly working or I was traveling to perform. The '60s for me were about work," she told JazzWax in 2010.
In the 1970s and after, she continued to record regularly and perform worldwide at clubs and festivals. She officially stopped touring with a show at Ohio University in September 2011.
Wilson was married twice -- to drummer Kenny Dennis, whom she divorced in 1970; and to Wiley Burton, who died in 2008. She had three children.
Metro on 12/15/2018
Print Headline: Grammy-winning singer Wilson, 81, dies