Born in California in 1950, Ann Wilson first rose to fame in the 1970s as the lead singer for the rock band Heart. Her younger sister, Nancy Wilson, plays guitar in the band. Ann Wilson's powerful vocals scored several hits for Heart in the '70s, including "Crazy on You," from the band's debut album, Dreamboat Annie (1976), and "Barracuda," from 1977's Little Queen. Heart's popularity waned and then made a comeback in the mid-1980s with singles like "What About Love" and "Nothin' At All." She continues to play music, launching her solo project The Ann Wilson Thing! in 2015.
Ann Dustin Wilson was born on June 19, 1950, in San Diego, California. Her mother, Lou, was a concert pianist and choir singer, and her father, John, a former Marine, was also a musician and singer who once led the U.S. Marine Corps band. Ann Wilson's younger sister, Nancy, four years her junior, would later join her sibling to play in the band Heart.
Due to her father's military career, the Wilson family moved frequently. They lived near American military facilities in Panama and Taiwan before settling in Seattle, Washington, in the early 1960s. In order to maintain a sense of home no matter where in the world they were residing, the Wilsons turned to music. "On Sunday we'd have pancakes and opera," Nancy Wilson recalled. "My dad would be conducting in the living room. We'd turn it way up and rock. There was everything from classical music to Ray Charles, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, bossa nova and early experimental electronic music."
Beginning a Music Career
During the spring of 1963, when Ann Wilson was 12 years old, she fell ill with mononucleosis and had to miss several months of school. To keep her entertained and busy during this time, Wilson's mother bought her an acoustic guitar. Although Ann (unlike her sister) never especially took to the instrument, this pattern of using music to overcome health problems would recur throughout her childhood.
Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Wilson struggled with obesity. Making matters worse for a self-conscious child, she had a prominent stutter that persisted well into adolescence. Years later, Wilson unhappily recalled "hitting puberty, you know, where girls just naturally either become so self-confident that they're popular or they fall of the cliff of being totally ugly, totally unpopular, everything's wrong with them—and of course I fell off the cliff."
In order to gain self-confidence and overcome her stutter, Wilson turned to singing, soon developing a resonant, beautiful and powerful voice. Throughout high school Wilson performed alongside Nancy, a talented guitarist, in short-lived local bands such as Rapunzel and Viewpoint.
After graduating from high school in 1968, Wilson decided to devote herself to music full time. She sang with several Seattle-based bar bands until one day in 1970 when she responded to a newspaper ad placed by a band called Heart, which was looking for a lead singer. Thoroughly impressed by Wilson's powerful pipes, Heart—which consisted at the time of Steve Fossen (bass) and Roger Fisher (guitar)—immediately brought her in as lead singer.
While performing a gig in upstate Washington, Fisher's older brother Mike, who had been evading the draft in Vancouver, Canada, snuck across the border to see Heart perform. Wilson fell madly in love with him. Within a few months, she succeeded in persuading her bandmates to move to Vancouver, where she could be with Mike and he could serve as their manager.
Heart quickly established a reputation as one of the best new bands in Canada. Wilson's younger sister Nancy joined Heart in 1974, bringing to the band her virtuosic acoustic guitar skills. Their sound morphed into the powerful blend of acoustic and electric hard rock music that became their trademark.
Success With Heart
Heart released their debut album, Dreamboat Annie, in 1976, on the small Canadian label Mushroom Records. Behind the strength of its iconic lead single "Magic Man" and two more successful singles, "Dreamboat Annie" and "Crazy on You," Dreamboat Annie became an unexpected commercial success, peaking as high as No. 7 on the U.S. albums chart.
Heart's 1977 follow-up, Little Queen, which featured the now-classic track "Barracuda," was another enormous commercial and critical success. Other noteworthy early Heart albums include Dog & Butterfly (1978), featuring the singles "Straight On" and "Dog & Butterfly," Bebe le Strange (1980), featuring "Even It Up," and Private Audition (1983), featuring "This Man Is Mine."
Although the full lineup of Heart changed with considerable frequency over the long duration of the band's career, Ann and Nancy Wilson always remained the band's driving force as lead singer and lead guitarist, respectively, as well as primary songwriters. Heart thus enjoys an important place in music history as the first female-driven hard-rock band to achieve widespread popularity.
In 1985, Heart shifted gears stylistically to deploy a more pop-friendly sound on their eighth studio album, Heart. The result was a runaway success. Heart became the band's only album to reach No. 1 on the U.S. charts, eventually selling over 5 million copies. The single "These Dreams" reached No 1 on the Billboard singles chart, and three additional singles—"What About Love," "Never" and "Nothin' At All"—cracked the Top 10.
Heart's next record, 1987's Bad Animals, nearly replicated that success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart and spawning hit singles in "Alone" and "Who Will You Run To." Completing a trio of albums that marked the peak of Heart's success was Brigade (1990), featuring the iconic single "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You."
After their 1993 album Desire Walks On failed to reach the success of their previous efforts, the Wilson sisters briefly disbanded Heart to form a new group called The Lovemongers. The Lovemongers toured briefly in the Pacific Northwest and released one album, Whirlygig, in 1997. The sisters then reformed Heart to release a 2004 comeback album, Jupiters Darling, which received high critical praise but did not sell especially well. Heart's album Red Velvet Car, released in 2010, returned the band to national prominence and commercial success, reaching No. 10 on the Billboard charts behind the popular singles "WTF" and "Hey You."
As the voice of Heart, Ann Wilson has established an enduring legacy in the world of rock 'n' roll. As her career begins to wind down, Wilson says her goal is to make every last moment count. "Here we are at this point in the band's history and just like with any lifespan, the longer you love, the longer things look in back of you—and shorter in front of you, too. That sense of perspective means that you're much less likely to want to waste any time at all. So there's a even greater sense of mortality, of the stakes involved here and an even stronger desire to make every moment on the album matter."
The Ann Wilson Thing!
In 2015, The Ann Wilson Thing!, Ann Wilson’s solo project, released its first digital EP. The work includes covers of music by Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, and others who have inspired the singer throughout her life.
Ann Wilson married Dean Wetter in April 2015. The couple first met in the 1980s and reconnected years later. Wilson has two children whom she adopted in the 1990s, a daughter named Marie and a son named Dustin.
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