Cabaret singer and musical theater star Julie Wilson was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1924, the daughter of Russell Wilson, a coal salesman, and Emily Bennett Wilson, who became a hairdresser. She displayed an interest in theater and music in her youth and began singing with local bands at the age of 14. She enrolled at Omaha University, majoring in drama with a minor in music, but dropped out when she successfully auditioned to replace an ailing performer in a road tour of the musical revue Earl Carroll's Vanities that had come to town. She stayed with the tour six months, leaving when it got to New York in the spring of 1943.
In New York, she embarked on a career as a nightclub singer that led to engagements at prestigious clubs such as the Latin Quarter and the Copacabana. She also occasionally sang with big bands such as those of Johnny Long and Emil Stern. She made it to Broadway as an understudy in the 1946 revue Three to Make Ready. She spent much of the late '40s on the West Coast, performing in such clubs as the Mocambo in Los Angles and the Mark Hopkins in San Francisco. She replaced Lisa Kirk as the second female lead in Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate on Broadway in 1949, was a member of the national touring company from 1949 to 1951, and on March 8, 1951, opened in the London production, which ran for 501 performances. Along with other members of the cast, she made recordings of the show's songs for the English Columbia label. (She also appeared in an American television production of Kiss Me, Kate in 1958.) She starred in the London musical Bet Your Life (February 18, 1952), which ran for 361 performances and produced a cast album on the English Columbia label, and she replaced Mary Martin in the starring role in the London production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific.
While remaining based in London, but commuting back to New York, she resumed her career as a nightclub singer, appearing in the Persian Room at the Plaza Hotel. She also recorded for Philips Records in London. She was a replacement in the starring role in the Broadway musical The Pajama Game and later also appeared in the London production. She moved back to New York permanently in 1955 and released her debut album, Love, on Dolphin Records in 1956. She appeared in two films in 1957, the drama The Strange One and the musical comedy This Could Be the Night. The latter produced a soundtrack album released by MGM Records on which she appeared. She made three more albums, My Old Flame (1957) and Julie Wilson at the St. Regis (1958) for Vik Records, and Meet Julie Wilson (1962) for Cameo Records, but she became less active after marrying theatrical producer Michael McAloney in 1961 and bearing him two sons in the mid-'60s. (They later divorced.) She originated her first role on Broadway in the musical Jimmy (October 23, 1969), which ran for only 84 performances, but produced a cast album released by RCA Victor Records, and quickly followed with the even less successful Park (April 22, 1970), which ran only five performances.
In the early '70s, she appeared in the national touring companies of the Stephen Sondheim musicals Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music, but in 1976, after releasing the albums Julie Wilson at Brothers & Sisters, Vol. 1 and Julie Wilson at Brothers & Sisters, Vol. 2, she retired from performing and moved back to Omaha to care for her ailing parents. She returned to show business in January 1984 with a celebrated engagement at Michael's Pub in New York devoted to the music of Porter. Now in her sixties, she was rediscovered as a major cabaret singer, performing at such tony venues as the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel and the Café at the Carlyle Hotel. She signed to DRG Records and made a series of songbook albums devoted to the work of Broadway composers Sondheim (1988), Kurt Weill (1988), Harold Arlen (1989), Porter (1989), George Gershwin (1999), and Cy Coleman (2000). She returned to Broadway in the Peter Allen musical Legs Diamond (December 26, 1988), which ran only 64 performances, but produced a cast album released by RCA, then starred in the off-off-Broadway production of the Bob Merrill musical Hannah...1939, which ran for 46 performances at the Vineyard Theatre after opening on May 31, 1990, and was recorded by the British That's Entertainment Records (TER) label. Julie Wilson suffered a stroke in Manhattan on April 5, 2015 and died that same day at the age of 90. ~ William Ruhlmann