She sang avidly from the age of four, and by the point she was 10 she was the lead singer within the native choir. She had no formal coaching. “It’s all natural,” she advised Jazz Wax.
As a teen, Ms. Wilson turned entranced by the feminine singers she heard on a neighborhood jukebox, particularly Dinah Washington, whose ear for irony and eager sense of drama affected her deeply.
“The general humor is a lot of Dinah,” Ms. Wilson stated of her type in an interview for the National Endowment for the Arts’ web site in 2004. As the inspiration for her glamorous presentation, she cited Lena Horne.
At 15, whereas she was nonetheless a scholar at West High School in Columbus, Ohio, Ms. Wilson entered a expertise contest held by the native tv station WTVN; it led to common appearances twice per week on its present “Skyline Melodies.” Until her commencement, she sang at nightclubs, generally with Sir Raleigh Randolph and His Sultans of Swing, an 18-piece band.
Ms. Wilson spent one 12 months at Central State College in Ohio earlier than dropping out to pursue music full time. She honed her abilities by touring repeatedly within the Midwest and Canada with Rusty Bryant’s Carolyn Club Big Band, with which she minimize her first recordings, for Dot Records. Seven years handed earlier than she felt prepared to maneuver to New York, in 1959.
Ms. Wilson arrived in New York with three objectives: to be signed by the influential jazz supervisor John Levy, who labored with the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and the British pianist George Shearing; to be signed by Capitol Records, the house of singers like Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee; and to file her first album with the producer David Cavanaugh, who labored with these singers.
Within 5 months she fulfilled all three objectives, even whereas holding down a day job as a secretary at the New York Institute of Technology. A high-profile gig at the Blue Morocco membership led to the contract with Mr. Levy, who obtained her the label deal, which linked her with Mr. Cavanaugh to supply her debut album in 1960, “Like in Love,” with splashy preparations by Billy May.