Singer-songwriter Nancy Falkow McBride, once a major player in Philadelphia’s 1990s and early 2000s music scene, died after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was 49.
McBride made her name locally in the 1990s, when, for a brief moment, she was the female singer-songwriter in town.
“Nancy got first-call on a bunch of stuff because she was just the best in the city,” said Jesse Lundy, a longtime area concert promoter and publicist.
One of Lundy’s favorite tales involves Daniel Lanois, the famous record producer and musician, who was in town recording at Indre Records for WXPN’s World Café Live radio show. McBride, at the time, was Indre’s studio manager.
“While Lanois was setting up to soundcheck,” Lundy recalled, “she just kind of walked by him and sang a perfect harmony with what he was singing. At the end of the day, he invited her on tour.”
Things like that seemed to happen for McBride, said friends and former colleagues, because she had no fear — and the talent to back it up.
McBride recorded background vocals for acts as diverse as Astrud Gilberto and G. Love and Special Sauce, sang back-up vocals for Moe when the jam-band icons played “Dark Side of the Moon” one Halloween night at the Tower Theatre and, perhaps most notably, shared a Lilith Fair stage with the Indigo Girls and Sarah McLachlan in 1998.
For years, she was a member of Slo-Mo, the hip-hop hybrid band led by Philly-based steel guitarist Mike Brenner. Their 2005 album “My Buzz Comes Back” received a lot of airplay, especially on WXPN.
“The shows started to get really fun,” Brenner said, “and Nancy was around for all of that.”
One night at The Fire, the Girard Avenue venue where, in Brenner’s words, “the band really coalesced,” he remembered calling for the band to play Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.” The band had only rehearsed it a couple times and Brenner wasn’t sure McBride had even learned the words, but crowd momentum was so high that it was the perfect moment to try it out.
“She just blew the room apart. I just remember people being blown to the back of the room by her voice, and it just sounded so good,” Brenner said.
Her musicality was distinguished by big, soulful vocals.
“The big choruses needed to be delivered by a strong female vocal,” Brenner said, “and she was an immediate first choice because, despite being a white girl, she really did have a huge and super soulful voice.”
What her friends will miss most is her sensitivity and sense of humor.
“We definitely laughed our asses off,” said Scot Sax, the former Wanderlust frontman and Grammy-winning songwriter who produced Nancy’s first EP. “But she was also really sweet to me when it wasn’t in fashion. She told you when she liked you or when she liked something you did. She wasn’t one of those too-cool-for-school types.”
“Nancy was a great singer and when Norah Jones’ first album came out, everyone was like, ‘She sounds exactly like Nancy Falkow,’” Sax continued. “But that wasn’t the part that attracted me to Nancy Falkow. It was … that we were the same person with the same center.”
McBride was born and raised in Margate, New Jersey, and attended Temple University and Arcadia University, where she earned a master’s degree. She attended Beth El Synagogue in Margate, where her great-grandfather Samuel Kravitz was a founding member.
She is survived by her older brother Howard Falkow, younger sister Ellen Auer and parents, Marilyn and Bernie Falkow.
In 2004, she moved to Ireland to build a life with Frankie McBride, the man friends describe as her soul-mate, whom she married the following year. In 2006, the couple welcomed a daughter, Hannah. The family made their home in County Wicklow, not too far from Dublin and near the beach, where McBride in recent years had taken to transforming sea glass into pieces of art.
“Sometimes we’d joke that she gave up her fame and fortune, like Grace Kelly did for Prince Rainer, to move to Ireland and be with her husband Frankie,” said Auer. He survives her, as does their daughter.
“She fought with everything she had to be there for her husband and daughter,” Auer continued. “I could go on and on. She was the best! I’m really going to miss her.”