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Legendary cabaret star Julie Wilson dies at 90

She was perhaps the grand dame of cabaret, with a voice often referred to “electrifying.”

And to a generation of Chicagoans, her performances at the iconic Gold Star Sardine Bar on Lake Shore Drive, were the hottest ticket in town.

Julie Wilson | SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

Julie Wilson | SUN-TIMES FILE PHOTO

She was Julie Wilson, described by Deadline.com as “a sultry, whiskey-voiced chanteuse who ruled the soigné cabaret rooms of Manhattan, from the top of the world at the St. Regis Hotel’s King Cole bar to the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel.”

Wilson died Sunday night at her New York City home after suffering a series of strokes. She was 90.

With her trademark gardenia tucked elegantly behind her left ear, Wilson delivered the Great American Songbook and Broadway classics with equal finesse. The works of Cole Porter, Rodgers and Hart, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, Stephen Sondheim and so many others were seemingly second-nature to her.

Though Wilson was generally regarded as a one of the best at her craft, she was perhaps her toughest critic. In a 1999 interview with the Chicago Tribune, Wilson described her voice:

“My voice is a daily chore. I work at it every day of my life or else I can’t get it out,” says Wilson, who religiously spends an hour a day with a voice teacher . “I’ve fought my voice since I was born. It’s never been good enough. I never can do all the things I hear in my head that I’d like to do.”

In its obituary of Wilson today, the New York Times said “…she was by turns naughty and intense, digging so deeply into the lyrics she sang that she seemed to be living them.” You can read the full obit here.