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A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she performed with her pianist brother, Vic (J. Victor) O'Brien (later president of the Pittsburgh National Bank), in cafes and supper clubs in the Pittsburgh area. She studied singing in Los Angeles with Alexis Bassian[who?] and Lotte Lehmann. By the age of twenty she was singing on Hollywood film soundtracks and it was there that she was spotted by Laurence Olivier. He picked Merriman to accompany him and his wife, actress Vivien Leigh, on a tour of Romeo and Juliet, where she performed songs during the set changes.
Merriman sang many roles both live and on radio under the baton of Arturo Toscanini between 1944 and 1953, while he was conductor of the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Among the roles she sang with him, were Maddalena in Act IV of Verdi's Rigoletto, Emilia in Verdi's Otello, Mistress Page in Verdi's Falstaff, and the trousers role of Orfeo in Act II of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and also sang in his first and only studio recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, in 1952. She was also featured as Dorabella in a 1956 La Scala performance of Mozart's Così fan tutte, which was conducted by Toscanini's short-lived protégé, Guido Cantelli.
Merriman was the first singer to record Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde twice, recording it on both occasions with the tenor Ernst Haefliger and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The 1957 recording was conducted by Eduard van Beinum for the Philips label, while the 1963 recording was conducted by Eugen Jochum for Deutsche Grammophon (see discography in the external links). The latter recording was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque of the Académie Charles Cros.
Merriman was particularly well received in the Netherlands, where she met and married Dutch tenor Tom Brand, a widower with several children. She retired from performing to care for the family in 1965. Brand died in 1970. After the children were grown, she maintained residences in Hawaii and California. She died at her home in Los Angeles on July 22, 2012 from natural causes, aged 92.
- August 2, 2012. "PASSING: Nan Merriman". latimes.com. Retrieved 2012-08-03.
- Rosenthal, Harold. "Merriman, Nan". Grove Music Online. Fitzroy Dearborn. Retrieved March 6, 2015.