A Jazz Legend Is Gone at 81

Vocalist, NPR host, and civil rights activist Nancy Wilson is dead
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 14, 2018 8:10 AM CST
A Jazz Legend Is Gone at 81
Nancy Wilson poses with her award for best jazz vocal album for "R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal)" at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards in 2005.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

A powerful jazz vocalist has sung her last song. Nancy Wilson, a three-time Grammy winner and host of NPR's "Jazz Profiles," died Thursday at her home in Pioneertown, Calif., after a long illness, her manager confirms to NPR. She was 81. Known for telling stories through her music, particularly jazz, Wilson actually dabbled in many genres, from pop to R&B to Broadway show tunes. Born in Ohio, she began testing her pipes at age 4, and was lead singer of her choir by 10, reports the New York Times. Five months after moving to New York in 1959, she'd signed with Capitol Records and put out her first album with Nat King Cole's own producer. Despite no formal training, Wilson went on to release more than 70 albums (including three in a single year), winning the Grammy for best R&B recording in 1964, and two for best jazz vocal album in 2005 and 2007.

Her performances of songs like "(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am" became her signature. "Audiences want to see a song as well as hear it," as Wilson put it, per the Times. "Part of what I do is in my body language, my hands, my arms. You miss a lot by just hearing my voice." By 1965, a writer applauded one of her shows as an "extraordinary demonstration of the attainment, by a splendid singer, of an almost unprecedented mixture of commercial appeal, physical and music charm, and artistic integrity." Two years later, Wilson—a civil rights advocate inducted into the International Civil Rights: Walk of Fame—became one of the first African-American TV hosts, with the Nancy Wilson Show on NBC. "I'm so glad I was able to spend time with her and hear her beautiful voice in person," John Legend says in a tweet, per CNN. (This musician was called the greatest trumpeter of his generation.)

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