Nancy Wilson celebrates 50th year in music with new CD ‘R.S.V.P.’

Nancy Wilson celebrates 50th year in music with new CD ‘R.S.V.P.’

Clarence Waldron

Nancy Wilson says she is “a lady with a song.”

And the sophisticated song-stylist has been singing her songs for an amazing 50 years.

She celebrates her anniversary in music with the new bit CD, R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal), which is winning rave reviews and thrilling her longtime fans and winning her new ones.

She reveals the key to her longevity is, quite simply, the songs she sings. Songs that never go out of style. Songs that make you fall in love or help you put together the broken pieces of your life. Songs that say something.

“You’ve probably heard me say this time and time again, but it is the story that contained within the lyrics that get me,” Wilson explains. “Love, found, lost, betrayed, honored and held delicately in your hands and heart are my kind of songs.”

She continues, “I am not trying to be anyone else or go with the flow. I’m me. I’ve been myself. I don’t go with the flow. I think that’s pretty much been the key to my longevity in this business. I have remained myself. I’m a songstylist. I slug good songs. I sing songs of substance. You’ve got to tell a story in a song and that’s what I do.”

Every track on the CD has a guest performer and a unique arrangement tailored to Wilson’s distinctive style of telling a story. Among the guests are R&B singer Kenny Lattimore and jazz musicians George Shearing, Toots Thielemans and Phil Woods.

“I chose songs that I have always enjoyed but never recorded. Believe it or not most albums that I have recorded have a theme that runs through them and these songs didn’t fit into what I was doing at the moment. But they lingered in the back of my mind.”

The opening tune on R.S.V.P., An Older Man Is Like An Elegant Wine, perfectly describes Wilson’s performance on the CD: “Some things improve with age like a vintage wine growing mellow and fine.”

Nancy is indeed performing at the top of her game on the CD, which also features a jazzy version of the late singer and minister O.C. Smith’s Little Green Apples. “That’s my tribute to my pastor; it’s my first time recording and performing it,” she says.

She also puts her Wilson trademark style on another must-listen-to tune, the standard, That’s All.

R.S.V.P. marks the second collaboration between Wilson and MCG Jazz recordings. Her first recording with the label was the Christmas album, A Nancy Wilson Christmas, which was one of the top-selling jazz albums of 2001. Proceeds from R.S.V.P. go to support the MCG Jazz program at Manchester s Craftsmen’s Guild, a non-profit arts and education center in Pittsburgh.

And while some women may be reluctant to reveal their age, the honest and outspoken entertainer doesn’t mind at all. “I don’t give a damn,” she laughs. Why should I he angry about my age? Why wouldn’t I tell my age? It’s nice to reach my age and say it. I’ve reached a great age. I’ve lived a great 67 years.”

A child prodigy, she was singing by the age of 4 and at 15 she had her own twice-a-week television show, “Skyline Melodies,” in Columbus, OH. She later was a top attraction at jazz clubs n the Columbus region. Her musical influences included Little Jimmy Scott, Dinah Washington, Ruth Brown, LaVerne Baker, Billy Eckstine and Nat King Cole.

Wilson started her recording career with the Rusty Bryant Band on an independent label near her hometown of Chillicothe, OH. She released her first album on a major label (Capitol) in 1959, the hit album Like In Love. During most of her 20 years with Capitol she was second in sales only to the Beatles, surpassing even Frank Sinatra and Peggy Lee.

Wilson’s signature tune remains Guess Who I Saw Today, a song she recorded in 1960, that tells the story of a woman who spots her man out on a date with another woman at a French cafe and bar. “I cannot do a show without singing Guess Who I Saw Today. My fans would never forgive me,” she laughs. Other hits followed, including the 1964 Grammy winner How Glad I Am, You Can Have Him and When Did You Leave Heaven.

She has recorded about 75 albums, including Nancy Wilson/Cannonball Adderley featuring the h it Save Your Love For Me; Now I’m A Woman, This Mother’s Daughter, Broadway My Way, Hollywood My Way, A Lady With A Song, With My Lover Beside Me and the classic Lush Life.

“Lush Life is still my favorite album,” she reveals. “It’s a perfect album. I mean, it is absolutely perfect, the music, every note, the songs. There are a lot of Billy Strayhorn songs.”

She credits the late jazz great Cannonball Adderley for giving her a career boost, which led to her recording contract with Capitol.

Adderley caught her act at a local club in Columbus and told her, “If you ever come to New York give me a call.” He was managed by well-known manager John Levy.

Recalling her early days in New York, she says, “I gave myself six months to have John Levy as my manager and signed with Capitol. And if those two things did not happen, I would go back home.

“Remember, I was a big fish in a little pond,” she laughs. “Big time in Ohio and in the Midwest, so I wasn’t hurting. I wasn’t going to ask somebody to make me a star. I knew that I needed John because he was a man with the best reputation. I needed a man who realized that life is important to me and not the business. I wasn’t in love with the business. I was in love with life and I knew that John would understand that.”

Within six weeks in New York, the determined songstylist had everything she wanted–Capitol Records and Levy as her manager.

Levy has been her manager throughout her career. “John is like my dad. I had three fathers. I have John Levy, Sparky Tavares (her late road manager) and my dad (the late Olden Wilson). It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Throughout her stellar career she has received numerous accolades. In addition to her Grammy for her How Glad I Am, she’s received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, an Emmy for her 1960s NBC network TV series “The Nancy Wilson Show,” an NAACP Image Award for Best Jazz Artist, four Peabody Awards as host of “Jazz Profiles” on National Public Radio and recently was named one of America’s “Jazz Masters” by the National Endowment for the Arts.

She has raised funds for the UNCF and received honorary degrees from Berklee College of Music and Central State University in Ohio.

And topping off the accolades is Young America Works, a public charter school in Washington, D.C., which is building a recording institute to be named after Wilson next year.

Along the way, she has found time for acting and appeared in the ’60s on Bill Cosby’s “I Spy,” “Hawaii Five-0” and more recently on “Soul Food,” “The Parkers,” “Moesha,” “The Cosby Show” and “The Parenthood.”

Foremost in her life has always been her children, Kacy, vice president of finance at a computer systems company; Samantha, a singer-songwriter; and Sheryl, a graphics artist. Her four grandsons are Sol, 4, Shane, 4, Lane, 10, and Chase, 20 months.

Today, she has slowed down her tour schedule so that she can spend more time with her grandchildren. “Being a grandmother makes me want to come home more. I want to spend more time with them. I am slowing down. For example, right now, I have the next 10 days on the road, then I am off for a month. Then I work for another week, then I’m off. I refuse to work two shows a night for anybody. I don’t care how much money it is.”

Reflecting on the warm bond and connection that she has with her audiences, the down-to-earth songstylist says, “I hope they see me as a nice lady. Because I am a nice lady. I have a little bit of class, a little bit of sophistication,” she says modestly. “It’s not about the singing. It’s about what I bring to people, how good I make them feel. I want to always be known as a lady with a song.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group