Nancy LaMott, probably the greatest singer of American Popular Standards of her generation, was on the verge of stardom when she was struck down, at the age of 43, by uterine cancer.
Nancy came from the Midwestern town of Midland, Michigan (or, as she used to call it, a suburb of the Dow Chemical Company.) She coped with a childhood that was less than idyllic by singing with her father's band, and by developing Crohn's Disease, a serious but little known bowel and immune disorder that surfaced in her late teens.
Although she was often hospitalized and desperately ill, she knew she had to get out of Midland and pursue her dream as a singer. At the age of 19, she and her brother Brett, who was her drummer, headed out to San Francisco.
Nancy soon became one of the most sought-after cabaret singers in San Francisco, but her illness continued and she found herself alternating between singing triumphs and hospital stays. In addition, Nancy often had long periods where she had to be on cortisone and prescription pain killers for her disease, and addictive patterns and eating disorders became an added burden for her. But still, her singing triumphed, and soon she realized she had conquered San Francisco and needed to head for New York.
Unfortunately, due to her illness and her tremendous medical bills, Nancy had no money, another problem that would plague her throughout her life. But as so often happened, a loyal friend and fan had such belief in her that he gave her a plane ticket, and she was on her way to New York.
The pattern that had occurred in San Francisco reoccurred in New York. Nancy quickly became known in the small circle of the cabaret world as one of the great singers of her time, but her momentum toward success was always interrupted by illness, surgery and the resulting lack of funds.
People were captivated not only by Nancy's talent, but by her simple goodness and beauty of spirit, and she made many good friends, including David Zippel, Mark Sendroff, Bill McGrath and Bob Baker, who were there for her triumphs and helped her through the bad times. Still, somehow she remained New York cabaret's best kept secret. But all that was about to change.
In 1989 she met composer/conductor David Friedman, who felt she should be making records, and offered to produce them himself. When the first record, "Beautiful Baby" was completed, Nancy walked into HMV Records and said "Hi, I made this. Would you sell it?" And HMV took eight copies. But they played it in the store, and to hear Nancy was to buy Nancy.
Soon the company made enough money to make a second record. This time, HMV started with 250, and the record went into the top 10 in the store. Through her records, Nancy's popularity began to spread to a wider circle and she began breaking attendance records at some the most prestigious clubs in New York including the Chestnut Room at Tavern on the Green and the world famous Oak Room at the Algonquin.
A close-knit team developed around her, which included her pianist/arranger Chris Marlowe (who had been working with her for years, co-creating the arrangements and the sound that would become the hallmark of her recordings and live performances), Director Scott Barnes, and some of New York's finest musicians and designers, which became known around town as Team LaMott.
But Nancy was still not past her medical problems. Each year she would make a record, and somewhere during the process, go into the hospital for intestinal bypass surgery. Finally, her disease became too serious, and she was forced to have an ileostomy. This surgery changed her life in that for the first time she felt well and could eat whatever she wanted. With her newfound energy and health, her career really took off.
In the subsequent year and a half, Nancy toured extensively, was discovered by WQEW disc jockey Jonathan Schwartz which led to her being played on 1,000 radio stations all over the country, and appeared on numerous television shows including Live With Regis & Kathie Lee. Kathie Lee Gifford became a huge fan and played an enormous part in promoting Nancy nationally and also in personally supporting her toward the end of her life. That year Nancy also sang at the White House twice, and became a favorite of the Clintons.
All seemed to be going wonderfully, until March of 1995, when Nancy was diagnosed with uterine cancer. A race with the clock now began, and everything in Nancy's life accelerated. Nancy chose to do hormone therapy as opposed to surgery so that she could complete the greatest album of her career, "Listen To My Heart," with a full orchestra orchestrated by the legendary Peter Matz. Just after her diagnosis, Nancy was in San Francisco doing an AIDS benefit when she was introduced to actor Pete Zapp. They quickly fell in love and began a bicoastal romance.
In July, Nancy was told that the hormone therapy had not worked and that she needed to have a hysterectomy. She postponed it one month so that she could play the Algonquin one more time. As soon as that engagement was over, Nancy had the surgery and was told that the cancer had spread slightly and that she would need chemotherapy.
During this period, Nancy kept performing, doing a sold out week at Tavern on the Green, and even fulfilling concert dates around the country. Then she would have a chemo treatment and spend a week at Kathie and Frank Gifford's in Connecticut recovering.
The chemo and the disease began to take their toll, and just a few days after her last performances, an appearance on "Charles Grodin" and her regular annual visit to WQEW's on-air Christmas Party, Nancy was rushed to the hospital and her shocked friends and family were told that she had just a couple of days to live.
Peter Zapp and her family and friends rushed to her side. That night, President and Mrs. Clinton phoned her in the hospital to wish her well. Kathie Lee Gifford kept the country informed of her condition. David Friedman promised her that the whole world would hear her sing. And in the last hour of her life, Father Stephen Harris performed a bedside wedding ceremony for Nancy and Peter.
Nancy LaMott had it all, if only for 45 minutes. She died with friends and family around her, married for the first time in her life, and knowing she was on her way to worldwide recognition.
The outpouring of support and love that followed Kathie Lee's tearful on-air announcement of Nancy's death the next morning has grown and grown as people around the world have been discovering the glorious singing of Nancy LaMott. We lost Nancy too early, but her beauty and talent live on through the legacy of her legendary recordings.
Since Nancy's tragic and untimely death, her six albums have soared in popularity and her story has touched thousands of people across the nation.
For those of you who have been following the difficulties that ensued around the continued release of Nancy's CDs after her death, we are thrilled to report that, after 7-1/2 years, we have finally resolved all the issues with Nancy's family and Nancy's estate and are re-releasing all her CDs. Look for them soon in stores around the country. In addition, we are planning several new CDs of previously unreleased material, DVDs of Nancy's live performances and interviews, plus a TV movie of the week.
Order the music of Nancy LaMott here.
DAVID FRIEDMAN...composer, author, speaker