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Nancy Wilson, Song Stylist, Dies at 81

FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2007 file photo, Nancy Wilson, left, and Terence Blanchard, right, perform during an all-star tribute concert for Herbie Hancock, in Los Angeles.

Grammy award winning singer Nancy Wilson has died. She was 81 years old.

Wilson, who retired from touring in 2011, died late Thursday after a long illness at her home in Pioneertown, a California desert community.

Wilson referred to herself as a "song stylist" instead of a singer and she did have a way of styling a song to make it her own.

Probably her best-known and most stylized song is "Guess Who I Saw Today," a tour de force of cool in which she ever so patiently waits for her lover to come home so she can share the details of her day.

She sweetly asks him, "Guess who I saw today" after stopping in "a most attractive French cafe and bar."

She saw two people "so in love even I could spot it clear across the room."

And then she teases, asking over and over "Guess who I saw today" and finally and dramatically reveals "I saw you."

Wilson resisted being identified with any one genre of music, winning musical accolades in several categories, from R&B to jazz and funk..

"How Glad I Am" brought her a Grammy in 1965 for best R&B performance, and she later won Grammys for best jazz vocal album in 2005 for the intimate "R.S.V.P (Rare Songs, Very Personal)" and in 2007 for "Turned to Blue," a showcase for the relaxed, confident swing she mastered later in life. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded her a "Jazz Masters Fellowship" in 2004 for lifetime achievement.

Wilson also had a busy career on television, film and radio, her credits including "Hawaii Five-O,'' "Police Story,'' the Robert Townsend spoof "Meteor Man" and years hosting NPR's "Jazz Profiles" series. Active in the civil rights movement, including the Selma march of 1965, she received an NAACP Image Award in 1998.

Wilson listed Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington and Jimmy Scott among her influences.

The Associated Press reports that in accordance with Wilson's wishes, there will not be a funeral service. Instead, a celebration of her life will likely be held in February, her birthday month.