Diligent Champion Of Music And Entertainment, Nancy Lewis Jones, Passes Away
Nancy Carol Lewis Jones died peacefully on December 20, 2019 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City after a short illness. She was born on the February 20, 1943 in Detroit to Mack and Carol Edith (nee Schulz) Lewis. She attended Cooke Elementary, Redford High, and Michigan State University, where she majored in TV and Radio Production. At MSU she was Campus Correspondent for Billboard and first became seriously interested in the British Music scene when she went to review a concert of The Dave Clark Five in Lansing.
Nancy was raised in a house where her father was a strict member of the Church of the Nazarene, so religious observance ruled and dancing was a sin. One day, after she had sneaked off to a friend's house to watch Elvis Presley on "The Ed Sullivan Show," her father burned all her pictures and records. If he intended to smother her interest in pop music, he failed.
After MSU, Nancy left home for New York where, following a brief stint as a tour guide at NBC, she declined a job at NBC News in order to travel around the world with her friend Michele Powers, who convinced her that travel broadened the mind. So, in 1965 with return tickets on Icelandic Air and $100, she set off for Europe.
Nancy went no further than London, where she fell completely in love with the city and the level of excitement that was being generated by the Beatles and the general revolution in the music business. Luckily, she landed a job as feature writer for Fabulous, a weekly pop music magazine.
Nancy was approached by Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, co-managers of The Who, to be director of public relations for New Action, their management company, and Track Records, their newly-formed record label. Pete Townshend has said: "she provided a civilizing and calming sense of sanity that balanced their lunacy and audacity." He adds: "She worked valiantly in the first ten years of The Who's unfolding career, then quietly in the background. Without her I am certain we would not have done so well."
In 1967, Nancy moved back to New York to set up an American office for The Who and coordinate the group's first US Tour. During this time, accompanied by George Clinton, she bought records from shops in Detroit, which she distributed in England. Clinton maintains that Nancy was uniquely responsible for introducing Northern Soul to the UK.
For a short while, Nancy worked at Rogers, Cowan and Brenner, for The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Supremes, Jefferson Airplane, and others, but the corporate nature of the work was not for her, and she was soon back in London.
This time she joined the staff of Island Records, handling their company and artist PR, with artists such as Traffic, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Cliff, and Free.
In 1969, she returned to Track Records, and served as General Manager for their American operation. One of her notable achievements during this time was successfully negotiating with Sir Rudolph Bing to present The Who's Tommy in concert at the Metropolitan Opera House in June 1970. Among many public relations coups, she was also responsible for the famous photograph of The Who sleeping under the Union Jack, now well-known as the album cover of The Kids Are Alright.
Nancy went on to head publicity for the American company, Buddah Records in late 1971. Their artist roster included Curtis Mayfield, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Sha Na Na, and George Burns. Her proudest personal accomplishment was bringing into Buddah a distribution deal with the British label Charisma Records, which resulted in the launch of Genesis in the US. According to Peter Gabriel, "her quiet way, her determination, armed with that chuckle, would allow her to make many wonderful things happen for us, at a time when we most needed it."
Also included in the deal were two albums by the comedy troupe, Monty Python's Flying Circus - at that time completely unknown in America. From her time in London she knew of their ground-breaking TV series, though she'd never seen them, but the albums made her laugh out loud. She decided to make a project of them, and in a long and painstaking process, she started by distributing the albums to FM radio stations across the country, and began an extended campaign to persuade broadcasters that British humor could travel across the Atlantic. A colleague describes her as "pleasantly relentless" and she finally succeeded in breaking into the US market, when all, including the Pythons, had abandoned hope. Since 1974, the shows have hardly been off the air.
Nancy became Monty Python's American manager and contributed greatly to the success of the films Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. She was also responsible for bringing the lawsuit Gilliam v. American Broadcasting, which led to an important precedent in protecting the copyright of writer/performers in a landmark case in 1975.
In 1983, she married the actor Simon Jones, whom she met during the filming of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, and later they had a son, Timothy. Both of them survive her.
Donations in Nancy's memory can be made to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.