Grammy-Winning Jazz Singer Nancy Wilson Dead at 81

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Grammy-Winning Jazz Singer Nancy Wilson Dead at 81

Late last night, the world lost a music legend.

Jazz singer Nancy Wilson died Thursday night after battling an undisclosed illness at her home in Pioneertown, Calif., per the AP. She was 81 years old.

Although she is best remembered for her work in jazz, Wilson has continuously resisted being identified with a single genre, also including blues, R&B, pop and soul, and referred to herself instead as a “song stylist.” She was best known for such songs as “Guess Who I Saw Today” and the 1964 hit ”(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am.”

Wilson began her singing career in church as a little girl and decided before her fourth birthday that she would become a professional singer. She was in high school when she won a talent contest sponsored by a local TV station and was given her first program. In 1959, Wilson moved to New York, where she signed with Capitol Records. She did not retire from touring until 2011.

Over the course of her life, the prolific artist released over 70 albums. 1965’s How Glad I Am earned her a Grammy for best R&B performance, and she later won Grammys for best jazz vocal album in 2005 for R.S.V.P (Rare Songs, Very Personal) and in 2007 for Turned to Blue. In 2004, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a “Jazz Masters Fellowship” for lifetime achievement.


Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty

Wilson also had a full career on TV, film and radio, with credits including Hawaii Five-O, Police Story and Meteor Man. She hosted NPR’s Jazz Profiles series for just under a decade.

In addition to entertainment, Wilson received an NAACP Image Award in 1998 for her active role in the civil rights movement, including the Selma march of 1965.

In accordance with Wilson’s wishes, there will be no funeral service, her family announced in a statement. A celebration of her life will likely be held sometime in her birth month of February.

Wilson is survived by her son, Kacy Dennis, daughters Samantha Burton and Sheryl Burton, and sisters Karen Davis and Brenda Vann.

Remember Nancy Wilson below with a performance of “Guess Who I Saw Today” from Paste’s music vault.