Her manager told the New York Times that Wilson "had been ill for some time" before she died on Thursday (December 13), though an official cause of death has not been revealed.
Wilson was born in Ohio in 1937, and after winning a local talent contest, she began performing around Columbus at the age of 15. She toured with Rusty Bryant's Carolyn Club Big Band from 1956 to 1958, making her first recordings with the group. She later moved to New York and was signed to Capitol in 1960.
Wilson released hit songs like "Guess Who I Saw Today" and "Save Your Love for Me," and she went on to host The Nancy Wilson Show from 1967 to 1968. She continued to record and release music until 2007, and performed live for the final time in 2011 in Ohio. Wilson also hosted NPR series Jazz Profiles from 1996 to 2005.
Wilson won three Grammys during her career — Best Rhythm & Blues Recording for "How Glad I Am" in 1965, Best Jazz Vocal Album for R.S.V.P (Rare Songs, Very Personal) in 2005 and Best Jazz Vocal Album for Turned to Blue in 2007.
She was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2005 for her work as a civil rights activist throughout her career.
Wilson's husband, Reverend Wiley Burton, passed away in 2008.
Below, read some of the tributes to Wilson from other artists she inspired.
My soul mourns the loss of my dear friend #NancyWilson. She was such a beautiful person & songstress that the world of jazz will forever miss. Her polished vocals & style were unmatched as the #SongStylist. I will miss her dearly as friend & mentor. RIP Nancy 💜 pic.twitter.com/0zAsY2jbsz— Chaka Khan (@ChakaKhan) December 14, 2018