Nancy Wilson

Nancy Lamoureaux Wilson (born March 16, 1954) is an American musician, singer, songwriter, producer, and composer. She rose to fame alongside her older sister, singer Ann Wilson, as a guitarist and backing vocalist in the rock band Heart, which she joined in 1974.

Raised near Seattle, Washington in the suburb of Bellevue, Wilson began playing music as a teenager. During college, she joined her sister Ann, who had recently begun a tenure as the singer of Heart.

Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson

The first hard rock band fronted by women, Heart released numerous albums throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, beginning with Dreamboat Annie (1975), and Little Queen (1977), both of which generated chart singles such as “Magic Man”, “Crazy on You”, and “Barracuda”.

The band later had commercial success, especially with their eighth and ninth studio albums, Heart and Bad Animals, which were released in 1985 and 1987. Over the duration of their career, Heart has sold over 35 million records.

Wilson has been lauded for her guitar playing, noted for its blending elements of flamenco and classical guitar styles with hard rock. In 2016, Gibson ranked Wilson the eighth-greatest female guitarist of all time.

Early life

Nancy Lamoureaux Wilson was born in San Francisco, California,the third and youngest child of John Wilson (d. 2000), from Corvallis, Oregon, and Lois Mary Wilson (née Dustin; d. 2006), a native of Oregon City. Her middle name is derived from her grandmother, Beatrice Lamoureaux. Wilson is of French and Scottish descent. She has two older sisters, Lynn and Ann.

Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson

Wilson was raised in Southern California and Taiwan before the family’s U.S. Marine Corps father retired to the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Washington, where they relocated when Wilson was six years old. The family lived in a Colonial home in the Lake Hills neighborhood.

On February 9, 1964, Wilson and her sister Ann saw The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show, a moment they each recalled as being profoundly influential: “The lightning bolt came out of the heavens and struck Ann and me the first time we saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show… There’d been so much anticipation and hype about The Beatles that it was a huge event, like the lunar landing; that was the moment Ann and I heard the call to become rock musicians. I was seven or eight at the time…. Right away, we started doing air guitar shows in the living room, faking English accents, and studying all the fanzines.”

Nancy Wilson
Nancy Wilson

Two of Wilson’s friends joined Ann and her to form their first music group, which they called The Viewpoints, a four-part harmony vocal group. Later that year, Ann purchased her first guitar, a Kent acoustic, with money given to her by her grandmother.

Wilson’s parents soon bought her a smaller guitar, but since it would not stay in tune, she began playing Ann’s Kent guitar.On August 25, 1966, The Beatles performed at the Seattle Center Coliseum, a show which Wilson, her sister Ann, and bandmates attended, another event both recalled as influential in their early lives.

The Viewpoints’ first public show was a folk festival on Vashon Island in 1967. In Wilson’s words, “We didn’t get paid, but since there were people sitting in folding chairs, we considered it a professional gig.” The band played at venues such as drive-ins, auto shows, and church socials. The Wilsons’ public debut as a duo took place on Mother’s Day at their church.

Church Youth Day event

Later at a church Youth Day event, the duo performed “The Great Mandala (The Wheel of Life)” by Peter, Paul and Mary, Elvis Presley’s “Crying in the Chapel”, and The Doors’ “When the Music’s Over”. The anti-war sentiment, and the irreverence for the venue in some of the lyrics, offended a number of people. By the time they finished, more than half had walked out. Wilson felt some guilt over the event, but “it lit a bonfire under us because we saw for the first time that what we did on stage could have an impact on an audience.”

Although Ann Wilson attended Sammamish High School in Bellevue, where her father was an English teacher, Nancy attended Interlake High School. After graduating high school in 1972 and prior to joining Heart, Wilson attended Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, for one year, majoring in art and German,before transferring to Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. While in college, Wilson played solo acoustic shows at student unions, performing covers of Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon songs, as well as occasional originals. In late 1973, Wilson returned to Seattle, transferring to the University of Washington.

Career
Early endeavors

While still a senior in high school, Ann joined a band whose drummer knew a country songwriter who needed a backing band to play on his songwriting demos; Wilson and sister Ann entered a recording studio in Seattle to record the demos. During the session, the engineer allowed them to record the song “Through Eyes and Glass”, which Nancy and Ann had written. The engineer had his own record label, and liked their songs enough that he offered to make up 500 copies “for a few bucks”.

Nancy and Ann’s first single appeared on the B-side of the country track titled “I’m Gonna Drink My Hurt Away”. It was credited to Ann Wilson and the Daybreaks, which was not the name of the band, and it omitted Nancy as co-songwriter. Later, the sisters were returned 250 unsold copies of the record.