Gail Wynters is a Lexington treasure - a Kentucky native that moved to New York for an very successful jazz career. We're very excited to have her as part of our series.
7:00pm & 9:15pm Seatings
Nancy Gail Shivel first found her voice in her father’s Nazarene church in Ashland, Kentucky, belting out some impromptu blues one morning in the middle of Sunday services. The rest of the family were up front performing when the youngest, all of 18 months, decided it was time to join the family chorus. Later, when the family toured churches and singing conventions throughout the South, they were dubbed, the Shivel Family Singers with Gail - The Little Girl with the Built-in Speakers.
Well known in the rural south, they toured in tent gospel shows, sang on the radio, and had a huge following in Kentucky, Tennessee and Huntington, West Virginia, just across the bridge from Ashland. Gail’s father, who sang bass with the family group, also sang on the radio with his seven brothers. A man of good taste, he loved singers and jazz music, and brought home records of Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Fats Waller and what later became a major influence, The Golden Gate Quartet.
In the 50s, Stan Kenton wanted to take the teenage Gail on the road with his band. Her father refused to let her go. Nancy Gail was too young. Cal Collins, a well-known guitar player from Cincinnati heard Gail sing, hired her for his group, and began teaching her jazz standards. She explored Ellington, Gershwin, Arlen, Porter, Berlin and the great American song masters, and soon had a spreading reputation and steady work in Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, as well as Kentucky.
Word of her talent reached Nashville. Capitol signed her and tried to make her into another Brenda Lee. The six sides they produced were soon forgotten. Wesley Rose offered her a one-album contract on his own Hickory label, and produced Nancy Gail Shivel as if she were a cross between a southern Barbra Streisand and a white Gladys Knight. He called the album ‘A Girl For All Seasons,’ and renamed his young protege Gail Wynters.
Married and the mother of two young boys, Gail became a housewife and occasional performer, working gigs in the region. She opened for and toured with Roy Orbison in a series of concerts that included a young Joe Cocker. But soon, New York beckoned and her marriage ended. In New York she was heard singing in a bar by record producer Paul Vance. He immediately produced an album highlighting Gail’s vocal power called ‘Let The Lady Sing!’ for RCA. It became an instant hit - a chart success for RCA in Billboard, Record World, Cashbox and Variety.
She was booked into the Rainbow Grill with a sixteen-piece orchestra and received rave reviews from the New York critics. She was a guest star on many national television shows. Gail also shared billing on “The Palace,” a weekly TV show from Toronto hosted by Jack Jones, with Tony Bennett, Roberta Flack and Dionne Warwick. Returning to New York, she discovered that there had been a major shake-up at RCA. The president and the head of A & R were replaced and the album was shelved for political reasons. Undaunted, Gail began working with small groups in clubs like the Village Gate and the Blue Note.
She tours South America, Poland, and Singapore on a regular basis and occasionally returns to her home state for a gig.