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Overview for Natalie Wilson
Natalie Wilson

Natalie Wilson


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Nancy Wilson was a versatile jazz singer who also saw pop and R&B success during her initial '60s heyday, remaining a popular artist for decades afterward. She was born in Chillicothe, Ohio and grew up absorbing music from her parents' records and local juke joints.  After one year of college she got her first gig with a touring big band; this led to her meeting Julian "Cannonball" Adderley in 1959. Under Adderley's wing she moved to New York and signed to Capitol, working a secretarial job between singing engagements. Initially Capitol paired her with arranger Billy May, who gave her the same big-band sound he gave to Sinatra. But she had more success in 1961 with The Swingin' Manual!, a jazz-combo session with George Shearing, which established both her singing style and her hip/elegant persona. The same year brought her first duet album with Adderley, from which "Save Your Love for Me" became her first R&B hit single.  Wilson's charm and beauty also played well on television and she was a fixture through the '60s and '70s, with acting roles on various sitcoms and dramas. She also hosted her own show for NBC-TV during 1967-68, which won an Emmy. She was also active in the civil rights movement and marched in Selma with Martin Luther King in 1965. She remained with Capitol until 1979, cutting a variety of jazz, pop and Broadway material while staying open to contemporary trends (she covered "Ain't No Sunshine" in 1971, the same year Bill Withers recorded it). One of her last Capitol albums, 1977's I've Never Been to Me, had the title track that would be a hit for Charlene five years later. After the Capitol years she returned to contemporary jazz, collaborating in different settings with Chick Corea, Joe Henderson and Stanley Clarke. She also signed to Columbia where she made a string of '90s albums with more of an adult contemporary slant. During 1996 she began hosting NPR's Jazz Profiles; the show ran ten years and increased her visibility once again. During the show's run she recorded a few jazz albums, one of which (R.S.V.P.: Rare Songs, Very Personal) was a duets collection that reunited her with Shearing. Her later years brought numerous honors including induction into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2005, and an all-star 70th birthday concert at the Hollywood Bowl two years later. She began facing health battles afterward and in September 2011, she performed at Ohio University and told the audience "I'm not going to be doing it anymore." This was indeed her last show, and she retired to her home in Pioneertown, California. She died of kidney cancer on December 13, 2018.

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