Nancy Wilson and Phyllis Smith Tribute

The strange but true connection between two wonderful Black women we lost this month, one you know and one you don’t. #jazz #nancywilsonfans

On the first of December, we lost Ms. Phyllis Smith of Portland, OR, a fan of this program and mother to my “Baby Boy” Ronald E. Smith, who is a contributor and sometimes co-host of this program. A woman who loved Classical music, Jazz and Gospel (she was even a choir director at her church for some time), she lived to be 92 years of age, and was even a survivor of the Vanport Flood of 1948.

Ms. Phyllis Smith, August 2014, Portland, OR. Photo by and courtesy of her son, “Baby Boy” Ronald E. Smith. The scarf was one of her many handmade creations.

As we were cleaning out her apartment, I found a rather large stack of Nancy Wilson CD’s. I asked Baby Boy if he thought a tribute to his mother featuring music from these discs would be appropriate. He absolutely loved the idea, and I scheduled the broadcast date for near the end of this month. It seemed Jazz and Adult Contemporary vocalist Nancy Wilson was her all-time favorite artist.

And then, seemingly out of nowhere, on the 14th of this month, this came across my desktop from the New York Times:

Much like Ms. Smith, Wilson also died a home after a prolonged illness.

Nancy Wilson was first signed to Capitol, which was then primarily a Jazz and Adult Contemporary label in the pre-Beatles era, and she was an artist much like Nat King Cole, her labelmate. She was a different kind of Jazz singer, however: she was not afraid to take risks, like infusing standards with touches of R&B, Soul and Pop. Wilson and her style of music were urbane, sexy and sophisticated.

Though she didn’t have many hits on the charts, which is typical of artists primarily working in this genre, she was a popular album artist and often drew large crowds to her live concert performances, right up until her retirement from the music business in 2011.

The rather large stack of CD’s of Nancy Wilson titles that were owned by Ms. Phyllis Smith.

Wilson also broke with the tradition of the typical stereotype of the “tragic Black female Jazz singer” by choosing her own repertoire and not casting herself as the helpless victim in her songs, like so many female Jazz artists, save for probably Ella Fitzgerald, had done previously. During her career, she won three competitive Grammy Awards, her last being in 2007, and was also named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. She even hosted a television program, one of the first Black women to achieve such a feat, for which she won and Emmy award.

Outside of music, Ms. Wilson was also a tireless civil rights activist, even participating in the March in Selma in 1965 with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“As an artist then, taking such a political stand came with professional risks,” Wilson told the blog Jazz Wax in 2010. “But it had to be done.”

Spend an hour with us today as we celebrate the lives of two wonderful Black women we lost this month with this tribute in music. Somewhere, out in the universe, Ms. Wilson and Ms. Smith are surely trading stories and songs. All of these tracks come from the personal library of Ms. Phyllis.

Today is the day we lay her to rest. May your next journey Ms. Smith be filled with the love and light you gave all of us.

First Part

  • Face It Girl, It’s Over
  • Here’s That Rainy Day
  • Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
  • Go Away Little Boy
  • Happy Talk (Nancy Wilson & Cannonball Adderley)
  • Easy Living
  • The Things We Did Last Summer (The George Shearing Quintet With Nancy Wilson)
  • Guess Who I Saw Today

Second Part

  • Feel Like Makin’ Love
  • For Once In My Life
  • The Man That Got Away (live at the Sands Hotel)
  • Prelude To A Kiss
  • Taking A Chance On Love
  • Sophisticated Lady
  • My Funny Valentine
  • Other Side Of The Storm
  • The Island


  • What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve
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Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr., owner

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