Growing up in Ohio, Nancy Wilson knew early she wanted to be a singer. After winning talent shows, working clubs, touring with a big band and studying briefly to become a teacher, she decided to make a move to New York City in 1959.
Cannonball Adderly was so impressed with the up-and-coming singer he helped launch Wilson’s career by sharing his manager, John Levy, and his label, Capitol Records. That’s all the help she would need. Her debut was so well received she released five albums by her within the first two and a half years. And for the next forty Wilson would go on to record 70 albums with the last, “Turn to Blue,” winning a Grammy in 2006 for best jazz vocal.
Although Wilson has been described as a blues, jazz and/or cabaret singer, she has always preferred the title, song stylist. She is definitely one of those artists that can take a standard and make it her own. With the bright clarity of Ella Fitzgerald, the phrasing of Billie Holiday, the command of Frank Sinatra and the sensibility of her childhood idol, Nat King Cole, Wilson crafts a warm, sophisticated sound or as Time Magazine wrote in 1964, “She is all at once, both cool and sweet, both singer and storyteller.”
Like all the greats, Wilson can bring you in and make you feel at ease. Take “Moon River.” Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s original is wistful and longing, but Wilson’s interpretation is a breezy. She doesn’t so much sing as soar, gliding over the subtle percussive beat as to never land on a single note. No wonder Joe Williams once called her the Thrush from Columbus.