Nancy Wilson, the Grammy-winning “song stylist” and torch singer whose polished pop-jazz vocals made her a platinum artist and top concert performer, has died.

Wilson, who retired from touring in 2011, died after a long illness at her home in Pioneertown, a California desert community near Joshua Tree National Park, her manager and publicist Devra Hall Levy said Thursday. She was 81.

Influenced by Dinah Washington, Nat “King” Cole and other stars, Wilson covered everything from jazz standards to “Little Green Apples” and in the 1960s alone released eight albums that reached the top 20 on Billboard’s pop charts. Sometimes elegant and understated, or quick and conversational and a little naughty, she was best known for songs such as her breakthrough “Guess Who I Saw Today” and the 1964 hit “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am,” which drew upon Broadway, pop and jazz.

She resisted being identified with a single category, especially jazz, and referred to herself as a “song stylist.”

“The music that I sing today was the pop music of the 1960s,” she told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2010. “I just never considered myself a jazz singer. I do not do runs and – you know. I take a lyric and make it mine. I consider myself an interpreter of the lyric.”

Active in the civil rights movement, including the Selma march of 1965, she received an NAACP Image Award in 1998. Wilson was married twice and had three children.


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