Birthplace: Jackson, Mississippi
With such albums as Songbook (1985), Blue Skies (1988), and Blue Light Til Dawn (1993), many critics call her the finest jazz vocalist of her generation, but Cassandra Wilson simply calls herself a musician. The daughter of a bassist and guitarist who played with Sonny Boy Williamson and Ray Charles, she first began playing piano and guitar at the age of nine and started performing professionally during the mid-1970s. After moving to New York, she became the lead vocalist for M-Base, an ensemble. She also worked with New Air, before venturing on her own to establish a successful solo career. Adept at scat and other forms of improvisational singing, Wilson has drawn fire from some critics who complain that she sometimes sings second-rate material. In 1997, Wilson toured as part of Winton Marsalis' Blood on the Fields, a concert piece on American slavery. She released Blue Moon Rendezvous in 1998, and Traveling Miles, a tribute to Miles Davis, in 1999. 2003's Glamoured featured her interpretations of such disparate artists as Sting, Willie Nelson, and Bob Dylan. Her latest is Thunderbird (2006).