Jazz singer Nancy Wilson, a three-time Grammy Award-winner, was born on February 20, 1937 in Chillicothe, Ohio to iron-worker Olden Wilson and the former Lillian Ryan, who worked as a domestic servant. Nancy was the first of six children. Her father's love of music and the records he played at home were a huge influence on Nancy as a young girl. She already knew she would be a singer by the time she was four years old, and developed her talent by singing in the church choir.
She won a TV-talent show when she 15, and began appearing regularly on the Tv show "Skyline Melodies" while still in high school. She began working in night clubs at that same age.
After graduating from high school, the 17-year old Nancy matriculated for one year at Ohio's Central State College (now Central State University) before dropping out and becoming a professional singer. She recorded her first record with Rusty Bryant's Carolyn Club Big Band in 1956, with whom she toured from 1956 to 1958. While in the group, Nancy made her first recording with Dot Records.
Cannonball Adderley told her to move to New York to further her career, and she went to The Big Town in 1959. Within a month, she got a job singing at The Blue Morocco Night Club on Boston Road in The Bronx, where Adderley's agent heard her and signed her. He obtained a contract for with Capitol records in 1960, and she made her debut that year with the single. "Guess Who I Saw Today."
Her records were successful, and Capitol issued five Nancy Wilson albums in two years. Initially focusing on rhythm and blues, under Adderley's influence, she moved away from R&B and embraced jazz and torch songs. Their 1962 collaboration "Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley" helped propel her to the top, and she had her breakout hit, "Tell Me the Truth," in 1963. This brought her a gig at New York's Coconut Grove, the premier night club in America, the following year, and she became a star.
Her 1964 song "(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am" reached #11 on Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart. Eventually, she charted 11 songs in the Hot 100. Nancy also placed four albums in Billboard's Top LP charts between March 1964 and June 1965.
She won her first Grammy in 1964, for best R&B recording for her LP "How Glad I Am." Nancy continued recording into the 21st Century, winning Best Jazz Vocal Grammy Awards for her albums "R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal)" (2005) and "Turned to Blue" (2007). She retired from live performance in 2011.
In addition to singing, Nancy Wilson also is an actress. She made numerous appearances on American TV. She also made a one-off appearance on the BBC with The Nancy Wilson Show (1966) in 1966 that was turned into a soundtrack album.
Nancy was married twice, to drummer Kenny Dennis from 1960-70. They had one child. She married the Presbyterian minister Wiley Burton in 1973. Married 35 years until his death in 2008, they had two children.
In the 1970s and after, she continued to record regularly and perform worldwide, at home in nightclubs, concert halls and open-air settings, singing at jazz festivals from Newport to Tokyo. She officially stopped touring with a show at Ohio University in September 2011, but had been thinking of stepping back for years. When she turned 70, in 2007, she was guest of honor at a Carnegie Hall gala. The show ended with Wilson performing such favorites as "Never, Never Will I Marry," ''I Can't Make You Love Me" and the Gershwin classic "How Long Has This Been Going On?"
"After 55 years of doing what I do professionally, I have a right to ask how long? I'm trying to retire, people," she said with a laugh before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
On December 13, 2018, Nancy Wilson 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.