Julie Wilson, Celebrated Cabaret Singer, Dies at 90

Obituaries   Julie Wilson, Celebrated Cabaret Singer, Dies at 90
Julie Wilson, a singer whose dominant presence in the cabaret world over the past few decades led her to be called “The Queen of Cabaret,” fell ill April 2, while preparing for the MAC Awards, and died April 5. She was 90.
Julie Wilson
Julie Wilson Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Ms. Wilson began her career as a musical theatre actress, both in New York and London. But, beginning in the 1980s, she began to focus on the smaller stages of the cabaret world, finding acclaim for her interpretations of songwriters such as Stephen Sondheim, Kurt Weill, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart and Cole Porter.

“It is a brilliant tour de force,” the New York Times wrote of a 1984 show of Sondheim songs. “It is a triumph for Miss Wilson that lifts her to a new career level and that sets a standard for contemporary cabaret performance.”

She was a regular star at the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel. In 1987, she performed From Weill to Sondheim at the Kaufman Theatre Off-Broadway. At the same theatre in 1991, she did Cole Porter at the Kaufman.

"Porter does the work for you," she once said, comparing the two songwriters. "Sondheim is more cerebral and he makes you do the work."

Her solo recordings include “Julie Wilson Sings the Cy Coleman Songbook,” “Julie Wilson Sings the Gershwin Songbook,” “Julie Wilson at the St. Regis,” “Live from the Russian Tea Room” and “My Old Flame.” Ms. Wilson recorded four albums for DRG Records: "Julie Wilson Sings Stephen Sondheim"; "Julie Wilson Sings Cole Porter"; "Julie Wilson Sings Kurt Weill"; and "Julie Wilson Sings Harold Arlen"--all accompanied by William Roy. Julie Wilson was born Oct. 21, 1924, in Omaha Nebraska, the daughter of a coal salesman and a hairdresser. She moved to New York City during World War II and soon found a job at the Latin Quarter, a prominent Times Square night club. In 1946, she was a replacement in the musical revue Three to Make Ready.

Her other Broadway appearances included Park (1970), Jimmy (1969), The Girl in the Freudian Slip (1967). She also stepped into the role of Lalume in Kismet, replacing Joan Deiner, and Babe Williams in the original run of The Pajama Game.

Her most famous stage role was arguably the 1988 Peter Allen musical Legs Diamond. The show had a notoriously short run, but she emerged with a Tony Award nomination.

Anita Gillette and Julie Wilson in <i>Jimmy</i>
Anita Gillette and Julie Wilson in Jimmy Photo by Friedman-Abeles

Ms. Wilson married actor and producer Michael McAloney. Together they had two sons, Michael Jr., who predeceased her, and Holt, who survives her. The marriage did not last, and the boys were sent to Ms. Wilson’s parents in Omaha to be raised there. In 1976, when they became teenagers, she retired from the stage to be with her children. Once they had grown to adulthood, and her parents had died, Ms. Wilson had little to do. Gil Wiest, the owner of Michael's Pub, contacted her. He had been looking for a singer to do a Cole Porter program. Though she argued she was not ready, he booked her for early 1984 anyway. The show was a critical smash. Her second career had begun.

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