The music world lost one of its greatest performers Dec. 13, when singer Nancy LaMott lost her battle against cancer at 11:30 PM, just two hours after a priest married her and actor Peter Zapp whom she had met in San Francisco six months ago.
In the past few years Nancy had become one of, if not the, most acclaimed cabaret performers. She received worldwide acclaim, even singing twice for President and Mrs. Clinton at the White House.
She sang regularly on "Regis & Kathie Lee," "Charles Grodin" and "Good Morning America" and was just starting to play some of the finest rooms in New York, including the famed Oak Room of the Algonquin and Tavern on the Green. Additionally, New York Magazine voted her Best Cabaret Singer in their Best of New York issue. Even other singers routinely heaped praised on her: The late Sylvia Syms said Nancy was "the best of her generation of singers," while Rosemary Clooney said, "I love her singing and have for years." Other champions of her work included WQEW's Jonathan Schwartz, who routinely praised her and her recordings, and the late writer for the New York Post, Bob Harrington, who said that "there is no more beautiful instrument than the voice of Nancy LaMott."
LaMott began her singing career performing with her father's dance band in Michigan and then moved to San Francisco in the 1970s to begin a solo career at clubs such as The Plush Room, the City, Chez Jacques and others. She arrived in New York in the mid-1980s and worked as a singer/waitress at Don't Tell Mama. Nancy eventually began to draw a large following, performing at Eighty Eight's in Greenwich Village, accompanied by her long-time musical director and friend, Christopher Marlowe. LaMott also spent a good deal of time performing in Lake Tahoe and Atlantic City, and performed with the likes of George Burns, Bob Newhart, Stiller and Meara and others. She often remarked that her life changed when she met Scott Barnes, who became her manager and director, and composer David Friedman, whose songs seemed to fit her voice perfectly.
It was just two summers ago when I first saw Nancy perform live. She was doing a month of shows called "Nancy LaMott and Friends" at the club that used to be called Steve McGraw's (now the Triad). There was no cover charge or minimum, and she was performing Friday nights for the entire month. That first night, I had arranged to go with three friends, all of whom canceled at the last minute. Thankfully, I decided to go anyway. I had previously only heard LaMott sing on the radio, and it wasn't until I witnessed her performing live that I became an instant fan. Blessed with one of the most beautiful voices I had ever heard, Nancy's gift was not just her voice but her total honesty in communicating a song's lyric. There was not a shred of pretension or affectation in her singing; everything came straight from her heart to yours. After that, I came back again and again. The second week at McGraw's, I actually met someone who has become one of my closest friends, a person who shares with me my love for the divas like no one else I have yet to meet. We followed Nancy's career closely, going to watch her perform whenever we could.
Since that first evening, I have often tried to describe her voice, and the best I can come up with is that if melted chocolate could sing, it would have sounded like Nancy LaMott. Her voice was so rich and beautiful, capable of soft purrs but able to produce a ringing belt sound as well. She had a natural gift for interpreting songs, and we are lucky that she has left behind five solo recordings.
Her first recording, which David Friedman produced with his own money, was titled "Beautiful Baby" and included one of her signature songs, "Help Is on the Way," which Friedman had written for her to close her club act. The song became an anthem for the fight against AIDS, a fight that LaMott was very involved with, performing at uncounted fund-raisers.
LaMott's second album was a tribute to one of her favorite lyricists, Johnny Mercer, and was titled "Come Rain or Come Shine: The Songs of Johnny Mercer." To me, the first track of this recording, "Moon River," epitomizes Nancy's gift: She was able to take a song you had heard a thousand times and make it something brand new.
Her next recording, "My Foolish Heart," was an album of different types of love songs, reaching its dramatic peak in a devastating arrangement of Sondheim's "Not a Day Goes By" and "Good Thing Going." Ironically, LaMott was in the process of preparing for an all-Sondheim show this spring at the Algonquin.
Last year, Nancy released a Christmas album, which seems to have her heart and her warmth all over it. The standout on this recording is another David Friedman song, "Just in Time for Christmas." You'd be hard-pressed to find a better interpretation of it.
A few weeks ago, her fifth and final gift to us was released, the long-awaited album on which she finally recorded another of her signature tunes, again a David Friedman song, "Listen to My Heart." If there was any song that seemed to truly speak from Nancy's heart it was this one.
Some of the lyrics include: "Listen to my heart/ as it smiles to know/ that now after so long/ I can finally sing my song/ and your hear and you're listening...Listen to my heart/Listen to it sing/Listen to my voice it wants to tell you everything/All about the life/that's just about to star/for if you want to know how much I love you/Listen to my heart."
Nancy, we will always be listening. Thank you for your many gifts.