By 1964, Nancy Wilson was already a celebrated song stylist with four charting LP’s to her name and the biggest-selling artist on Capitol before The Beatles crossed the pond. That year she would also have the biggest hit of her career with the breakout single and chart-topping album, How Glad I Am.
Throughout the early 60s, Wilson enjoyed a multi-genre appeal, switching effortlessly between pop, jazz and R&B. Ever since her debut single ‘Guess Who I Saw Today’ in 1960, she established herself as a singular storyteller, with the unique intonation and phrasing of a jazz singer, the passion of a blues singer and the crystal clear delivery of a commercial pop star.
Having cut her teeth in nightclubs as a teenager, Wilson’s sultry song styling was a natural fit for jazz standards like ‘Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe’ and she earned plenty of cred within the jazz world for her collaborations with saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, Ramsey Lewis and George Shearing.
Wilson was inspired by the records her father would play while she was growing up, like Little Jimmy Scott of The Lionel Hampton Big Band, eventually blending these big-band influences with pop orchestration and a soulful style that could be edgy and mainstream simultaneously.
Throughout her career, she found the label of jazz singer too limiting and preferred to think herself of as more of an interpreter, which explains the diverse styles that span How Glad I Am. From the sweeping ballads (‘Never Less Than Yesterday’) to show tunes (‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ and ‘People’ from Funny Girl) bossa nova (‘The Boy From Ipanema’ and ‘Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars’) and jazz-blues (‘West Coast Blues’).
She would pull material from the pop cannon no matter its origin, as evident on her previous LP’s, Hollywood – My Way and Broadway – My Way, that tackled pop standards from stage and screen. But out of this whole collection of singles, the title track ‘(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am’ is what would propel “Miss Nancy” to the top of the charts and earn her a Grammy for Best Rhythm And Blues Recording.
The single would become a huge radio hit, topping the US Top 10 Pop and R&B charts and would reach No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of 1964, just edging out The Beach Boys’ ‘I Get Around’. That same year, Aretha Franklin would cover the single on her Runnin’ Out of Fools record. While many artists would go on to cover the song, it’s Wilson’s song through and through. The melody floats like a Glenda’s bubble in The Wizard Of Oz and her syncopated vocals make you hang onto every note. It’s no wonder the song has become a favourite among Northern Soul fans over the years.
Thanks to her sophisticated stage presence and soulful voice, Nancy Wilson would become the mother of adult-contemporary music, paving the way for the likes of Diana Ross and Dusty Springfield. She was able to outsell many of her contemporaries by making the leap from the jazz and R&B charts to a wider pop audience, a strategic step that would prove beneficial for many African American artists like Nat King Cole and Dionne Warwick.
The same year How Glad I Am was released, Time magazine heralded Wilson as “the greatest pretender to Ella Fitzgerald‘s crown for a long time to come. She is, all at once, both cool and sweet, both singer and storyteller.” Wilson was also a dynamic live performer and her innate theatricality and ease on camera would lead to numerous television appearances in the 1960s and eventually her own TV series in NBC, The Nancy Wilson Show which ran from 1967-1968 and won an Emmy.
Although she would spend the next few decades embracing a more pop soul sound, Nancy Wilson never abandoned her jazz roots entirely and would go on to host a successful jazz radio show on NPR and release over a staggering 60 albums.
Nancy Wilson’s How Glad I Am can be bought here.