In the fall of 1993, I was pursuing work as a cabaret singer in Chicago. In order to hone my vocal chops, I took on a new coach.
At the end of our first session, the coach handed me a CD and said, "As you listen, I want you to take notes. This is the finest example of cabaret style there is."
The CD was Beautiful Baby and the singer was Nancy LaMott.
When I listened, her voice reminded me of no other, which was exceptionally rare. She also had the additional 'extra' that makes for a truly great singer: being a lyric interpreter of distinction. Her delivery of the most minute phrase, such as "will o' the wisp" in "Skylark", fascinated me.
I took a few of the required notes, but with each successive song my heart swelled to the point that it defused my mind. Technique was no longer important and the pen went down. This was a knowing voice; one that understood and communicated the human experience with such depth that the only thing to do was feel.
An almost whispered tone in one moment could build into a gorgeous, unaffected belt. She deftly unleashed a joyous inner six-year-old on "Child In Me Again", became a hopelessly in love adult on "Why Don't We Run Away", and the best friend anyone could want on the anthemic "Help Is On the Way".
By the time the lingering "In Passing Years" faded out, a stunned stillness set in. In a lifetime of loving great singers, I'd never fallen for one as fast and deeply as Nancy LaMott.
Beautiful Baby was released in 1991. By the time I learned of Nancy, there were two other records I could snap up immediately. All three albums featured flawlessly sung and arranged music, mainly classics from the Great American Songbook. An equally superior Christmas album was released in 1994, which contains the greatest holiday song you've never heard (trust me!), "All Those Christmas Clichés."
On December 8, 1995, during my weekly stroll through Chicago's Tower Records, I was beside myself to find a new album, Listen To My Heart, in Nancy's section. Having not seen any advance notice of new music coming, I bought it and rushed home as fast as I could to listen.
The general instrumentation of Nancy's previous albums was piano, bass and drums with the occasional added woodwind or string. So, it was a bit jolting to be greeted by a glorious orchestra in the first milliseconds of Listen To My Heart!
More exciting was that the orchestrations were by the legendary Peter Matz, perhaps best known as music director for The Carol Burnett Show and for his work with Barbra Streisand. Clearly, Nancy was becoming successful enough to expand outside the world of cabaret. Listen To My Heart was an overwhelmingly thrilling listen.
The following Sunday, December 17th, a friend called and said, "You will never believe who died."
The world stopped for several moments. This couldn't possibly be true.
But it was. A few hours later, I read Nancy's obituary online.
I learned she had suffered from Crohn's Disease since she was seventeen and was sick almost all the time. Musically speaking, she was on her way to becoming an international star, and had performed at the White House for the Clintons.
Many of her medical concerns seemed to be under control by 1993, and she enjoyed a period of good health, perhaps for the first time in her life. Then, in early 1995, Nancy was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Told the prognosis was good, she postponed surgery in order to complete gigs and record Listen To My Heart. Around the same time, she met someone and fell deeply in love.
When autumn arrived and she went in for the operation, it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized.
Nancy began chemotherapy, but gradually declined over the next three months. All the while, she never stopped singing. On the day her health took its final turn for the worse, the man she'd fallen in love with proposed. The two were wed on her deathbed an hour before she passed away on December 13, 1995.
All of this information was devastating. It seemed inconceivable that someone with such an enormous gift had not only experienced tremendous physical pain, but had achieved such success and found love only to have it all cut short.
After I stopped reading, I played Listen To My Heart and wept. How could this voice, so alive and vibrant, be gone? The album had become more poignant and urgent, as if Nancy sang so passionately because she knew she was not long for this world.
It was holiday season; generally a beautiful time in Chicago despite the cold. As I walked the colorfully lit streets, I would flash to Nancy. Her song "I'll Be Here With You" particularly haunted me. My heart ached, and the bright holiday lights seemed dim.
A few months later, while singing at an open mic, I made the acquaintance of Nancy's friend, producer and champion, David Friedman. Without David Friedman, Nancy LaMott may never have been recorded.
The night we met, David shared beautiful stories about Nancy, their friendship and their musical bond. He also spoke of being in the room when Nancy passed away.
"I made Nancy a promise before she left us," he said. "I told her, 'I will see to it that everybody in the world will hear you sing.' She was very weak, and could only nod."
Holding to his promise, David put out the first of several intended posthumous releases in 1996. In death, Nancy's total record sales had increased by a staggering percentage. At the time, I'd read that a documentary about her life was filmed and completed for possible airing on PBS. It seemed Nancy LaMott was on track to become a sensation after life.
Then, something very strange happened and a tremendous amount of momentum was lost. Nancy's six existing albums were suddenly no longer available, and more of the reported wealth of archival material wouldn't be forthcoming for the foreseeable future. For reasons that are long resolved and no longer bear specifics, eight years of snafus prevented Nancy LaMott from being heard.
That changed in 2005 with the release of Live at Tavern On the Green. Another CD and a DVD followed in 2007.
David Friedman personally funded all of those releases. By the time each one was finished, there was no money left in the budget to publicize. It's been another eight years since the last release.
This time out, David has put together an Indiegogo campaign, which will assist with the costs of production, restoration and publicity for a release of Nancy singing the songs of Tony Award winning and Academy Award nominated lyricist David Zippel.
The amount raised thus far is unprecedented for a vocalist who hasn't been alive for nearly twenty years and is not known on a mass scale. However, there is still a way to go before the campaign is fully funded.
That is where I come in. Once I heard about the campaign and was reminded of David's promise, I felt compelled to share my passion for Nancy LaMott.
I'm asking you to listen to my heart. If you love great music and vocalists, once you hear Nancy LaMott, you will also want to help David Friedman keep his promise.
Nancy is a singer who will forever remain in a class by herself, and that would have been the case even if we hadn't lost her. As one friend said when I introduced him to Nancy, "I love her to distraction!"
"Nancy wanted to sing and loved music more than anything in the world," says David Friedman. "I had never met an artist more pure. Like most people, I never got over her from the moment I first heard her. Hers is a voice that deserves to be heard. I want Nancy to be a household name. I want her to get there."
So do I.
Below: Nancy LaMott sings "I'll Be Here With You" -- February 14, 1995.