December 14, 2018
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
The legend who couldn’t and didn’t want to be defined by one genre of music, Nancy Wilson has died at the age of 81. The singer, best known for her jazz style passed away in her home in California last night after fighting a longtime illness, according to her manager, Devra Hall.
The self-proclaimed “song stylist” released eight albums that soared to the top of Billboard’s charts. Wilson was best known for her songs “Guess Who I Saw Today,” and the 1964 hit “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” that fused Broadway, pop and jazz in a way that was rare for the time.
In 2010, she told The San Fransisco Chronicle: “The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s. 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.”
Nancy was truly a trailblazer. Watch her perform at The Patton College’s 125th Anniversary Gala in 2011 [start at 2:00]:
Wilson won three Grammy awards, including one for best R&B performance in 1965.
In addition to a standout music career, the songstress embraced television, film and radio, as well. She held roles in “Hawaii Five-O,” ”Police Story,” the Robert Townsend spoof “Meteor Man,” and hosted NPR’s Jazz Profiles series. The “How Long Has This Been Going On?” singer was involved in the civil rights movement, including the Selma march of 1965, and received an NAACP Image Award in 1998.
When she turned 70, in 2007, the legend was honored with a gala at Carnegie Hall for her birthday. Following her performance at the gala, with a laugh, she said: “After 55 years of doing what I do professionally, I have a right to ask how long? I’m trying to retire, people.” And four years later in 2011, she finally retired from touring.
After hearing of her passing, Black Twitter showed an outpouring of love and appreciation for Nancy’s impact on their lives:
So sad to hear about the passing of the great Nancy Wilson. She was a magical performer. I'm so glad I was able to spend time with her and hear her beautiful voice in person.
— John Legend (@johnlegend) December 14, 2018
Going to need a moment. 😢 Just learned jazz great Fancy Miss #NancyWilson has passed away at the age of 81. I met her once & she was gracious beyond words. And that voice! #RIP pic.twitter.com/T2dMAPO7o5
— Beverly White (@BeverlyNBCLA) December 14, 2018
#NancyWilson had an amazing voice, but she was also conscious. She was woke. Her music lifted us up. She saw us. She believed in civil rights and equal justice.
— Donna Brazile (@donnabrazile) December 14, 2018
to lose Aretha Franklin and #nancywilson in the same year is such a massive loss of American Musical Groundbreakers. RIP Nancy Wilson, you were such a class act. #BlackGirlMagic https://t.co/SmyUUiUACO
— lola black (@lola_black1) December 14, 2018
When I was 10, my first concert was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. My second was #NancyWilson – at 11. I was a quarter the age of everyone else there, but I didn’t care. I’ve always loved her voice! That concert is one of the top five live-performance experiences of my life. pic.twitter.com/0HVOaYrRXu
— Victor Blackwell CNN (@VictorBlackwell) December 14, 2018
Wilson is survived by her son, Kacy Dennis; daughters Samantha Burton and Sheryl Burton; sisters Karen Davis and Brenda Vann, and five grandchildren. Unfortunately, earlier this year, we also lost the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and another jazz legend, trumpeter, Hugh Masekela.
Nancy will always be with us, and her music will live on forever.
TELL US: What’s your favorite Nancy Wilson song?