by Jim Farber via nytimes.com
Nancy Wilson, whose skilled and flexible approach to singing provided a key bridge between the sophisticated jazz-pop vocalists of the 1950s and the powerhouse pop-soul singers of the 1960s and ’70s, died on Thursday at her home in Pioneertown, Calif. She was 81.
Her death was confirmed by her manager, Devra Hall Levy, who said Ms. Wilson had been ill for some time; she gave no other details.
In a long and celebrated career, Ms. Wilson performed American standards, jazz ballads, Broadway show tunes, R&B torch songs and middle-of-the-road pop pieces, all delivered with a heightened sense of a song’s narrative.
“I have a gift for telling stories, making them seem larger than life,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1993. “I love the vignette, the plays within the song.
Some of Ms. Wilson’s best-known recordings told tales of heartbreak, with attitude. A forerunner of the modern female empowerment singer, with the brassy inflections and biting inflections to fuel it, Ms. Wilson could infuse even the saddest song with a sense of strength.
In her canny signature piece from 1960, “Guess Who I Saw Today”(written by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd), a woman baits her husband by dryly telling him a story in which he turns out to be the central villain. In her 1968 hit, “Face It Girl, It’s Over” (by Francis Stanton and Angelo Badale), Ms. Wilson first seems to throw cold water in the face of a deluded woman who fails to notice that her lover has lost interest in her. Only later does she reveal that she is the benighted woman scorned.
“Face It Girl,” an epic soul blowout, became one of Ms. Wilson’s biggest chart scores, making the Top 30 of Billboard’s pop chart and Top 15 on its R&B list.ing News
Her biggest hit came in 1964, when “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am”(Jimmy Williams and Larry Harrison), a rapturous R&B ballad delivered with panache, reached No. 11 on Billboard’s pop chart.
Three years later she became one of the few African-Americans of her day to host a TV program, the Emmy-winning “Nancy Wilson Show,” on NBC.
Ms. Wilson released more than 70 albums in a five-decade recording career. She won three Grammy Awards, one for best rhythm and blues recording for the 1964 album “How Glad I Am,” and two for best jazz vocal album, in 2005 and 2007. In 2004, she was honored as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Nancy Wilson’s album “How Glad I Am,” from 1964, won a Grammy Award for best rhythm and blues recording.
For her lifelong work as an advocate of civil rights, which included participating in a Selma to Montgomery, Ala., protest march in 1965, she received an award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta in 1993 and an N.A.A.C.P. Hall of Fame Image Award in 1998.
In 2005, she was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, also in Atlanta.
“As an artist then, taking such a political stand came with professional risks,” she told the blog Jazz Wax in 2010. “But it had to be done.”Continue reading “R.I.P. Grammy Award Winner, Legendary Song Stylist and Civil Rights Activist Nancy Wilson, 81”