Produced by Ed Roebuck
Written/ Photographed by Jaris Reed
There have been two great days in Harlem, but this third one I witnessed first hand. As her longtime road manager, best buddy and orchestrator of some of the greatest performances in her 60 plus years in the industry, Ed Roebuck created the tribute of all tributes on March 25, 2019.
At the Aaron Davis Hall on the campus of City College Center for the Arts in Harlem, a memorial service fit for the Queen that began promptly at 2:30pm and was chocked full of spine tingling, goose bump raising praising, singing and “memory lane walking” from the opening to close.
The mistress of ceremonies for this star studded afternoon was WBGO’s own Sheila “Ms. Silky” Anderson.
The opening invocation was performed by Reverend Elder Kevin E. Taylor.
The Honorable Charles B. Rangel gave a humorous account of his experience with having met Nancy once during his military service.
The opening act was Diva Jazz Trio who performed a swinging rendition of “Take the A Train” and later served singingly as house band.
They were followed by Five time Grammy Award winner Yolanda Adams.
Next, Sheila brought to the stage Vocalist Melba Moore and Actor/ Minister Clifton Davis. who told of their experiences with Nancy at various venues in the U.S. and around the world.
Nancy’s one time singing mate Kenny Lattimore did a jumping version of “All Of Me” accompanied by the Divas.
Also from Ohio as Nancy was, Vanessa Rubin who chose “The Dream Is You” from Nancy’s Capitol years. With her unique style the local favorite as well as international stylist was also backed up by the Divas.
The UNCF was represented by Maurice Jenkins, Jr. He told the story of having met Nancy when he was in High school and later met her again during one of her many visits during a fundraiser.
Interestingly enough, if you have ever wondered what Nancy’s acting abilities were like, there was an excellent video montage presentation featuring a Infinity car commercial as well as a Stroh’s commercial, a guest role in the original 70’s hit series “Hawaii Five-0”, an excerpt from the show “The Parker’s featuring comedian “Monique” and an episode from “The Cosby Show”.
After a hardy applause the next vocalist was the winner of the 2018 Sarah Vaughn Vocal Competition who also hails from Cleveland, Laurin Talese. From her debut cd “Gorgeous Chaos” came her version “The Very Thought of You”.
She was followed by National recording artist/radio host Alyson Williams, whose selection of “Save Your Love For Me” brought the filled house to it’s feet with her cover of Nancy’s signature. She was assisted on Alto Sax by Art Sherrod, Jr. under the musical direction of Nat Adderley, Jr.
The next guest testimonial came from the current Fox hit show “Empire” star actress/vocalist and best friend Leslie Uggams.
She lovingly described her last conversation with Nancy then told how she got the news of her passing.
“ I played “Love Dance”, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” then I slept”.
She described how once in Las Vegas she Nancy and Diahann Carroll
were relaxing at a club and played a joke on the customer trying to
figure out who they were. Nancy was responsible for her learning her
favorite card game Penuckle. She then stunned
the audience with an impromptu abbreviated version of “I’ll Be Seeing You”... a standing ovation obviously!
She was followed by the star who’s cinema work includes “Inkwell” and “Jason’s Lyric”. Chicago native Actress Suzanne Douglas gave Nancy a glowing tribute as being a trailblazer in her profession.
She was followed by the star of “The Color Purple “, “Lethal Weapon” and it’s sequels and “The Harimaya Bridge”, actor Danny Glover. He reminisced on his meeting Nancy and telling her he once as a young teen wanting to marry her to which she quipped, “ why not now”?
Houston, TX native vocalist Andre James next took the mike to rock a stirring version of “If I Could”.
Alyson Williams returned once more to perform “All Blues”.
The event’s final performance was given by one of the top female stylists of this era the world reknown Dee Dee Bridgewater.
If there was one song that signifies Nancy’s most famous of her many hits in her catalogue, it would have to be the one from here debut album with Cannonball Adderley… her signature tune, “Guess Who I Saw Today”. Before she left the stage she blew a kiss to the photo of her friend.
To put a wrap on this event, the family of Nancy Wilson was in attendance and represented by niece Pietra Craig, who spoke on behalf of the family. She expressed being thoroughly grateful for all the love, passion and hard work put forth by Ed Roebuck, Nancy’s road manager for most of her career.
Let’s take a moment and relish in Nancy’s 60 plus years and cavernous body of work. Now, project it in its proper place amongst all those who she has joined.
The “Celestial Choir” has embraced “The Baby” as its newest song stylista.
Ahhhh… I can see it now, the greatest band leaders … Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Billy “Mr. B” Eckstein are drawing straws to see who she will choose for her first VSOP (Very Special Onstage Performance) at the Universe of Stars Cavalcade”. Why choose just jam with them all… what a treat huh?
Just imagine any one of the Jazz classics being performed with Nancy out front then followed by the Lovely Lena Horne, Sassy Sarah Vaughan, Duchess Ella Fitzgerald and “Lady Day” Billy Holliday.
It has been said HE works in mysterious ways but once we all arrive we can only imagine what it sounds like up there. Nancy, in a 1993 interview in her California home told me when asked what talent did she like stated the group Arrested Development and she simply adored Phyllis Hyman…”what a phenomenal talent, she left here way too soon”. Can you imagine she and Phyllis now together on the “Special Sessions” stage.
Nancy Sue Wilson summed it all up in saying… “I just love to sing, just point me to the stage”.
Well Ms. Nancy … well done, outstanding and well wishes on your debut… from us ALL who loved YOU.
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You can hear an excerpt of Europe ‘s Jazz Profile: “From Nancy with Love” on www.jarisreedgroup.org.
The full interview is available as well.