Music Preview: Another side of Nancy Wilson

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Many people came to know Nancy Wilson as the host of National Public Radio's "Jazz Profiles."

John Heller/Post-Gazette
"Whenever MCG produces a record, you can count on it being of substance," says Nancy Wilson, shown during a 2001 concert at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
Click photo for larger image.

Nancy Wilson and the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra

Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $22.50-$50.50; 412-456-6666.


Related article

Grammys put spotlight on the Guild
Listen In:

Hear portions of songs from Nancy Wilson's Grammy-winning CD "Turned to Blue":

"Turned to Blue"

"Taking a Chance on Love"

"I'll Be Seeing You"

"Knitting Class"

Others recognized her voice on many of the old Infinity car commercials.

Still, for others, it was her work in the 1960s and '70s, appearing on her own Emmy Award-winning NBC series, "The Nancy Wilson Show," a musical variety program sponsored by Famous Amos cookies. She also appeared on other variety shows, including the Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett and Andy Williams shows.

But the 70-year-old Wilson made her mark as a vocalist, and that's what she will be doing when she returns to Pittsburgh Sunday night for a performance at the Benedum Center with the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra.

The concert will focus on music from the recent Grammy Award-winning album "Turned to Blue," recorded at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild studio on the MCG Jazz label.

"Turned to Blue" is Wilson's second Grammy in as many years. Last year, she won for her recording of "R.S.V.P."

Speaking from her home in Southern California last week, Wilson talked about her career, the Grammys, and the special relationship she has developed with the MCG.

Congratulations. Most people, including myself have never attended the Grammys. Can you talk a little about what that experience is like?

Thank you. It's a long day. But I was very pleased with the way the awards were presented. I think they did a really classy job. What's shown on the television will always be people that are popular at the moment. But I have to say that they are making improvements. They honored Ornette Coleman, and I was absolutely shocked.

You're a huge fan of the Police, particularly Sting. What was your reaction after he was awarded a Grammy?

I love me some Sting. When Police got on stage, I rushed to my seat. I was not going to miss Sting. I got to know Sting and the gentleman that he is when we were both awarded honorary doctoral degrees from [Boston's] Berklee School of Music on the same day. I love his intelligence. He is also fine and handsome and a great father and husband. He's got a life, and I admire that. The only other person I have a crush on like that is Ludacris. I saw Ludacris at the Oscars, and he had on the best-looking tuxedo of anyone there. He doesn't know that I have a crush on him.

Are there any young singers that you've heard lately that you really enjoy listening to?

Chris Brown's tribute to James Brown at the Grammys was special. I also enjoy listening to Yolanda Adams, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and Jennifer Holliday. I think Beyonce's performance at the Grammys was incredible. That's the Beyonce I have been waiting for. I always knew the voice was there. But to see a mature Beyonce singing songs with such substance was really thrilling. It was also nice to watch the growth of Mary J. Blige. She went through a bunch of trauma and strife, and to see her made me so proud.

You were recently on the cover of Essence magazine for ageless beauties. How are you able to stay so young and beautiful looking?

All I can say is, I'm blessed. I don't have a workout ethic. I don't exercise. I eat what I want when I want. The problem is, I am not a food person. I am not into food. I've always been a little skinny person. I weighed 104 pounds when I was 20. My problem has always been keeping weight on. I have to work at making sure that I eat. Whenever I feel myself getting hungry, I eat cheese crackers or drink a can of Ensure to tide me over.

This is your third Grammy. Can you talk about how each one has been different?

For years, I had a problem with the Grammys for the way they categorized music. For example, I will never be able to understand how I won my first Grammy in R&B back in the time when all of my stuff was pop. (Wilson won her first Grammy in 1964 for "How Glad I Am.")

I am so pleased with the recent awards because they were recorded on the MCG Jazz label. The staff at the MCG are about preserving this music and showcasing marvelous musicians. I thought the "R.S.V.P." album was going to win because of the wonderful production value. That album had the great Jimmy Heath and James Moody. I believe in the MCG. I support it, and I really love the prize-winning orchids. It's a marvelous organization.

What was your reaction after your name was called?

Honestly, I didn't expect to win this year. I went because I appreciate a number of the artists there, especially Roberta Gambarini and Diana Krall. [County singer] Charlie Pride presented me with the award. But he didn't say the winner is Nancy Wilson. He said, "Turn to Blue," and I just sat there, but after a few seconds I got it together. I was truly not expecting it.

What are the benefits of winning a Grammy?

For some people, it has meant the kiss of death. Some people win a Grammy and you never hear from them again. Over the years, I have been nominated more than 20 times. Now, I have people calling and wanting to put tours together. But I am not interested in that anymore. I have been at this for 55 years. I've done about 20 shows over the past two years, and I don't want to do anymore. I don't want to spend the rest of my life on the road. The bottom of my concern is getting on an airplane. The performances are the easy part. My problem now is being away from home, not sleeping in my own bed. I am not seeking work anymore. I have about 12 concerts this year, and that is plenty for me.

Can you talk about the magical relationship you've developed with the MCG?

It's about the music and the respect for music at the MCG. It's not about hype. It's about producing the best record. Whenever MCG produces a record, you can count on it being of substance. The Ashby brothers [Marty and Jay] are all about the music. They are the best. Not only are they wonderful musicians, but they are family men and true friends and extended family.


Nate Guidry can be reached at nguidry@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3865.


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