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Wednesday, May 3, 2006 - Page updated at 03:01 PM

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Multitalented Wiley led life set to music

Seattle Times jazz critic

When Robin Wiley was a kid in Edmonds, she played big-band jazz saxophone.

When she grew up, she became an arranger for one of the most renowned pop vocal groups in the world.

Ms. Wiley, a singer/songwriter who died of cancer April 9 in Nashville, Tenn., was a lead vocal arranger for 'N Sync, wrote one of the group's biggest hits, "I Thought She Knew," as well as the arrangement of the national anthem the boy band sang at the 2000 World Series. Ms. Wiley was 45.

"She wrote gorgeous arrangements with serious jazz harmonies," said Ms. Wiley's longtime friend, Seattle record producer Matt Shaw. "She was also one of the funniest people in the world. She was a very bright, funny, talented woman."

Ms. Wiley attended Woodway High School (now merged with Edmonds High School), Edmonds Community College and the University of Washington, where she played saxophone in jazz band under the late Roy Cummings. Ms. Wiley also was hired by Cummings for touring shows at the Paramount Theatre and played keyboards in her own rock band.

"She loved the out-of-doors," recalled Seattle trombonist Jeff Hay, who met Ms. Wiley at the UW and took hiking trips with her. "She was extremely intelligent and very beautiful."

The multi-instrumentalist left Seattle for the renowned jazz program at the University of North Texas in Denton. Moving to Dallas, her focus shifted to vocal music, and she formed a Top 40 band. In the early '80s, Ms. Wiley returned to Seattle, where she collaborated with local jazz musicians, including singer Greta Matassa (then Goehle) in the all-girl group Bush Patrol and with jazz drummer John Bishop in the band Mister Edate.

In the late '80s, Ms. Wiley moved to Los Angeles and was offered a job in Orlando, Fla., coaching and producing vocals for Disney's New Mickey Mouse Club. The young hopefuls included future stars Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.

Ms. Wiley went on to produce a cappella tracks on the 'N Sync albums "Celebrity," "No Strings Attached" and "Home For Christmas." After working with Disney, Ms. Wiley moved to Nashville, where she worked as a songwriter and producer.

"She's one of those people who leaves a big hole in the universe," said Hay.

Timberlake, Cameron Diaz and other celebrities attended a memorial April 16 at Ms. Wiley's house in Nashville.

A local service is scheduled for May 21, time and place to be determined. (For information, call Shaw at 206-271-1501).

Ms. Wiley is survived by her parents, Bill and Shirley, and her brother Jeff.

Remembrances may be sent in Ms. Wiley's name to MusiCares, the service agency of the Recording Academy, at 1904 Wedgewood Ave., Nashville, TN 37212.

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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