She's never had a gold record. Yet Nancy Wilson has been a fixture in the music world for more than 20 years.
And, really does it matter, gold records and such, suggests Nancy Welson, as she narrows her inky brown eyes and seems to withdraw into the navy vinyl Metropolitan Police Boys Club jacket. Her white mink is elsewhere in the hotel room.
She, she quickly explains, counts her success in other ways. By now her three children are doing. By the response to the benefit cause, not the star, like the one she did last night for the Metropolitan Boys and Girls Police Clubs at the D.C. Armory! Not by how many times her popular commercial for Stroh's Beer makes very serious men melt.
Most of all. Wilson measures her success by her stability. It's not only the style that hasn't changed, the woman behind the silkly voice hasn't been reshaped to anyone's desires but her own.
"I very much knew who I was when I left home at age 22. I had beeen a success at 18. And I lived home until I was 22, thinking my career through. I knew the record company and the manager I wanted. Then I was also able to leave because I knew I had the stability of my family to fall back on. "Also I knew who I was, I knew what I wanted in my career. And I also knew what happiness I needed. The applause is marvelous but you can't sleep with it" - and she stops, gulps at her frankness and goes on - "Basically I am a very unpretentious person. I am only a success if my family, my children are fine, and if, when I am in public, I say something that makes sense."
As a singer, she has had the knack of making sense - almost guiding men and women - out of some untender situations. Her first hit, "Guess Who I Saw Today,"released shortly after she signed with Capitol Records in December, 1959, set the formula. Wilson, angry housewife, stirred her martini and told her husband that she had seen him and his afternoon sweetheart. Later, it was "Face It Girl, It's Over," and a succession of advicelhden songs that made men soon and women borrow the solutions.
"And that is me," says Wilson, her tone as final as the slam of a door. "That's my essence, to weave words, to be dramatic, and I haven't changed. Because what I am has not created a problem for me.
Looking back over her career she guesses that she and Tennessee Ernie Ford are Capitol's most enduring pop artists: "I would rather be with one company 18 years and be a steady seller, than to have had two gold records in 25 years."
Other musicians discovered very early that the "me" Wilson repeatedly uses to define her style, was unique. When she was a teen-ager in CHillocothe, as rural community outside Columbus, Ohio, she sang with local bands, and had her own TV show. The late Cannonball Adderley discovered her in 1959, soon she was under his powerful wing, breaking into supper clubs. "People wanted to call me a jazz singer but I was a song stylist."
The distinction paid off.
Soon she was appearing at the Coconut Grove. "I guess the highlight of my career came very early, all within a period of a year. The song 'Guess,' the appearance at the Grove, the live album there, and then my album with Cannonball," she says. She kept her feet on the ground, she adds, very slowly, by "admitting, yes, Nancy Wilson is a star but how is Nancy Wilson is a star but how is Nancy growing in the eyes of her family?"
Part of her stability has been her dual image as a wholesome homebody and as a sultry singer both images have been successfully commercialized.
For the last five years Wilson has been the symbol of Stroh's Beer, chosen, she says, "because it's a family enterprise. I knew what they stood for." Stroh's, according to their public relations office, selected her, because of her "'broad appeal and prestige.' And the brewery has never had an adcampaign with more mail response." Now, when Wilson performs, "right after my first bow, as I turn to introduce the orchestra, someone will yell "Song the Stroh's Commercial.'" (Stroh's, through their local distributor, the Potomac Distributing Co., was the sponsor of Friday night's cabaret and concert).
Wilson and her daughter. Samanatha, 2 1/2 are also representatives of Johnson & Johnson, the baby conglomerate. Wilson, along with health experts, does a "To Your Baby's Health," a five-minute show on blackoriented radio stations.
"What I like is not only did Johnson want me to be a spokesman, but the company really dealt with the fact that infant mortality is highest among blacks, and you have to reach those families. Then they sought a way to help." According to Wilson, the show will soon be introduced in the Washington market.
Recently, there has been an explosion of black perosnalities selling brand-name products in all types of media. O. J. Simpson for Hertz; Bill Cosby for Ford and Del Monte; Sonny Rollins for Pioneer Stereo; Pearl Bailey for Qurisman Chevrolet: Muhammad Ali for Gino's, and Ella Fitzgerald for Memorex.
"Naturally these companies are tapping the black consumer market. But I don't think we are being used wrongly, because I remember when you couldn't get your voice on the radio. Things have changed and you just dio. Things have changed and you just have to remember to look out for your own integrity with these corporations and speak up when something is wrong." Instead of viewing her 40th birthday as a traumatic passage. Wilso hopes to spend more time on civic causes. She has seral personal crises earlier: the breakup of her first marriage: the decision to cut back on her career when her son. Kacy, now 14, entered the first grade; and the gossip that follows an attractive divorcee as she is seen with actor Robert Hooks, Gary, Ind. Mayor Richard Matcher and Congressman John Conyers.
By the time she reached 40, she had married again to Rev. WileyBurton after a whirlylnd courtship [WORD ILLEGIBLE] days, has one daughter and adopted another.
"Each year I plan to work fewer dates than last year" she says. "My family needs meet home. I think people already think of me as a woman and a mother, rather than a singer."
She also hopes to spend more time on vicic causes. She has served on two presidential commissions (Youth Opportunities under Lyndon Johnson, and Minorty Business under Richard Nixon and is currently active with the Martin Luther King Center for Social Change, the National Urban Coalition, and the Kennedy Center's Chairman's Commission.
"And this is something I have always done, been a contributor. I can remember wearing out three pairs of shoes in Selma. but that isn't the work needed now. But I feel when I do something. I am also doing it for my children, and I am insuring the stability of their world. I do things as a person who has always cared, that hasn't changed," says Wilson, and she smiles, realising that she has said several times that she is "the same old me."
She laughs, burying her head in her hands. "What is the lyric? 'My funny valentine, please don't you change for me.'"