nancy wilson was bor on 20 february 1937, in chillicothe, ohio. while still in her youth, wilson moved, with her family, to columbus, ohio. perhaps influenced by legends such as lavern baker, dinah washington, ruth brown and "little" jimmy scott, wilson admits to having known, by the age of four, that she would eventually become a singer. like many divas, wilson began her formal vocal training as part of a church choir. at age fifteen, wilson won her own television series called skyline melodies as part of a talent competition. though she continued her school and eventually enrolled in college, it wasn't long before she left the confines of university life to persue her true calling as part of rusty bryant's carolyn club band, in 1956. as a member of bryant's band, wilson's vocals were committed to wax on dot records.
while in columbus, wilson came to know and perform with famed jazz musician, cannonball adderley, who introduced her to her future manager, john levy. wilson signed her first solo recording contract with capitol records, shortly thereafter, joining a roster that already included the likes of nat "king" cole, frank sinatra and peggy lee. wilson's first two singles with capitol"like in love" and the adderley collaboration "save your love for me"scored big with the public and set wilson on her way to establishing a devoted and enduring fan base. the following years would see wilson surpass labelmates such as the beach boys to become capitol's second highest selling artist (the beatles held the number one spot) and their highest selling female artist. in 1964, wilson won a grammy for "how glad am i". the 1960s saw a proliferation of variety shows hosted by recording artiststhe donny & marie show, the sonny & cher show, the tony orlando & dawn showand nancy wilson was no exception. in 1967, wilson won an emmy for her nancy wilson show.
the vocal versatility exhibited by wilson on both her television shows and recordings, only served to expand her fan base exponentially. a true jazz diva in the veign of dinah washington, sarah vaughn and ella fitzgerald, wilson was just as comfortable performing more pop- and r:b- flavored vocals. this versatility allowed wilson to engage herself in a promotional cycle that ensured her success throughout the 1960s and 1970s' headlining shows in las vegas and at some of the nation's premiere supper clubs had fans lining up to buy her albums, while albums which strictly adhered to wilson's high standards helped the artist to pack the clubs, night after night, with admirers who were eager to catch one of her spellbinding performance.
in 1984, wilson switched to columbia records and set about releasing a series of albums that would touch the souls of fans of both jazz and r:b. though it was natalie cole's unforgettable with love that was hailed as the year's most significant jazz accomplishment, wilson was making history of her own in 1991 with the release of with my lover beside me. a collaboration with barry manilow, the landmark album set the heretofore un-recorded lyrics of johnny mercer to music composed by manilow, with stunning results. the same year, wilson's contributions to the world of music were recognized as she was presented with her own star on the hollywood walk of fame. as the 1980s melted into the 1990s, wilson expanded her visibility with appearances on television (the cosby show, the sinbad show) and movies (meteor man). still an avid recording artist, wilson did not slow down her pace in the last decade of the century, but rather produced some of the most stunning work of her career. 1994's love, nancy helped to close the divide between rhythm : blues and country western music with her rendition of bonnie raitt's "i can't make you love me". similarly, 1997's if i had my way demonstrates that, unlike too many of her peers, nancy wilson only gets better with the advance of time. with its samba-tinged "if i had my way", sharp-witted "not a day in your life" and the hidden reissue of the powerful "more love", if i had my way is a mellange of jazz, r:b, soul and pop vocals that provides hope to those who mourn the death of the respective genres. perhaps not too coincidentally, if i had my way is wilson's sixtieth recording and was released the year of her sixtieth birthday.
lately, nancy wilson has kept busy as the host of the npr series jazz profiles and nbc's walk a mile in my shoes, a look into the ninety-year history of the naacp. throughout her career, wilson has involved herself with such projects, always eager to aid and empower those who she felt unfairly disadvantaged. like artists such as gloria estefan, emmylou harris and tracy chapman, wilson can be credited with perserving the essence of a musical genre in jeopardy of being lost to us completely. additionally, she exists as an example of the highest of standards with an industry so eager to beat the competition to market and produce a hit that quality is severely compromised. a woman who has always exhibited unparalleled grace, a woman who could have, long ago, set down her microphone and rested on her many laurels, nancy wilson is truly a diva.