ASHLAND A famed jazz singer from Ashland and a member of the Shivel Sisters died.
Gail Wynters, 79, died on Feb. 19. A Facebook posting by son and frequent musical collaborator Tripp Bratton said the cause was complications from a heart procedure.
Wynters might be better known to listeners in the Ashland area as Nancy Gail Shivel, one of the Shivel Sisters who started singing in their father’s Nazarene church. She joined the group when she was 3 and soon becme known as “The Little Girl with the Built-in Speakers,” singing with sisters Beverly (Bunny), Ann and Janet.
“She succeeded in reaching the absolute top of her chosen art, bringing joy and affirming life through her exquisite voice, having worked alongside so many true legends in the world of jazz and soul, and was a Grammy nominee twice,” Bratton said in a social media statement. “It was my great fortune to share a stage with her as often as I did.”
The group later toured gospel shows in the South and appeared on radio shows.
Ashlander Trisha Wheeler remembers Wynters and her family, who lived in her neighborhood on Ky. 5.
“We were back and forth constantly in each other’s homes playing,” Wheeler said. “They had a beautiful playhouse, and Gail and (sister) Ann would write plays and stuff and we’d act them out.”
Wheeler said she heard all the sisters sing in church. “They were good,” she said. “All the Shivels were talented. They had really good harmony.”
Wynters’ career took off when producer Wesley Rose offered her a one-album contract on his Hickory label, titled “A Girl For All Seasons.” He renamed her Gail Wynters. Although married and a mother of two, she continued taking occasional gigs, including opening for and touring with Roy Orbison and Joe Cocker.
After her divorce, she was singing in New York when record producer Paul Vance heard her and produced her album “Let The Lady Sing!” for RCA. The hit allowed her to book the Rainbow Grill with a 16-piece orchestra.
Wynters’ tendency toward jazz was influenced by her father, who sang bass with his brothers and enjoyed the work of Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and Fats Waller.
She was a guest star on many national television shows in the United States and Canada.
After resettling for good in central Kentucky for a state of “semi-retirement,” Wynters performed for fans of traditionally schooled jazz through Sunday brunch concerts at the now-closed Willie’s Locally Known and endeared herself to an entirely new generation by collaborating on a video recording with Lexington’s March Madness Marching Band for an upbeat anthem called “We Will Survive.” Her contributions were recognized at the 2017 Lexington Music Awards, where she won a Lifetime Achievement award.
Renee Cobb Collins, an Ashland native and host of the Red Barn Radio program, knew Wynters, interviewing her in October 2017.
Collins said Wynters and the Shivel Sisters presented their audiences professional, quality entertainment experiences.
Wynters was born Feb. 17, 1942, to the late Arthur Shivel and Maxine Miller Shivel. In addition to Bratton and sisters Janet and Beverly, survivors include Artie Peel Bratton (Amy Cecilia Bratton); a sister, Roseann Taylor; and a grandchild, Avery Cecilia Bratton.
Betts & West Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements, which have not been announced.
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