"For my name to be added to the prestigious array of artists who have received this award is truly an honor. The NEA is one of the few organizations that have been there for jazz and for that I am truly grateful. This art form does not garner the recognition it so rightfully deserves. May the NEA and its supporters be there to foster and provide the assistance for future generations to come. I thank you."
Nancy Wilson first found her voice singing in church choirs, but found her love of jazz in her father's record collection. It included albums by Jimmy Scott, Nat "King" Cole, Billy Eckstine, Dinah Washington, and Ruth Brown; this generation of vocalists had a profound influence on Wilson's singing style. She began performing on the Columbus, Ohio, club circuit while still in high school, and in 1956 she became a member of Rusty Bryant's Carolyn Club Band.
She also sat in with various performers, such as Cannonball Adderley, who suggested that she come to New York. When Wilson took his advice, her distinctive voice enchanted a representative from Capitol Records and she was signed in 1959. In the years that followed, Wilson recorded 37 original albums for the label. Her first hit, "Guess Who I Saw Today," came in 1961. One year later, a collaborative album with Adderley solidified her standing in the jazz community and provided the foundation for her growing fame and career. During her years with Capitol, she was second in sales only to the Beatles, surpassing Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys, and even Nat "King" Cole.
Wilson also has worked in television, where in 1968 she won an Emmy Award for her NBC series, The Nancy Wilson Show. She has performed on The Andy Williams Show and The Carol Burnett Show and has appeared in series such as Hawaii Five-O, The Cosby Show, Moesha, and The Parkers.
Although she often has crossed over to pop and rhythm-and-blues recordings, she still is best known for her jazz performances. In the 1980s, she returned to jazz with a series of performances with such jazz greats as Art Farmer, Benny Golson, and Hank Jones. And to start the new century, Wilson teamed with pianist Ramsey Lewis for a pair of highly regarded recordings.
She has been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades, including two Grammy Awards and honorary degrees from Berklee School of Music and Central State University in Ohio. Wilson also hosted NPR's Jazz Profiles, a weekly documentary series, from 1986 to 2005.
Nancy Wilson and Cannonball Adderley, Capitol, 1962
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal