Jackie Wilson: Wikis


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Jackie Wilson

Background information
Birth name Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr.
Also known as Mr. Excitement
Born June 9, 1934(1934-06-09)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died January 21, 1984 (aged 49)
Mount Holly, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres R&B, soul, pop
Occupations Singer
Instruments Vocals
Years active 1953–1975
Labels Brunswick
Associated acts The Dominoes

Jack Leroy "Jackie" Wilson, Jr. (June 9, 1934 – January 21, 1984) was an American singer and performer. Known as "Mr. Excitement", Wilson was important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul. He was known as a master showman, and as one of the most dynamic singer and performers in R&B and rock history.[1][2] Gaining fame in his early years as a member of the R&B vocal group The Dominoes, he went solo in 1957 and recorded over 50 hit singles that spanned R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop and easy listening. During a 1975 benefit concert, he collapsed on-stage from a heart attack and subsequently fell into a coma that persisted for nearly nine years until his death in 1984.

Wilson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.[3] In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Jackie Wilson #68 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[4]


Early years and career

Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. was born in Detroit, Michigan, the only son of Jack Sr. and Eliza Mae Wilson. Growing up in the rough Detroit area of North End, Wilson joined a gang called the Shakers and often found himself in trouble. Wilson's father was frequently absent, as he was an alcoholic and usually out of work. Young Jackie was also introduced to alcohol by his father at the age of nine.[5] Jack Sr. and Eliza separated shortly afterward. Wilson dropped out of high school at age 15, having already been sentenced to juvenile detention twice. During his second stint in detention, he discovered boxing and performed in the amateur circuit in the Detroit area. His record in the Golden Gloves was 2 and 8. After his mother pleaded with him to quit, Wilson got married to Freda Hood and became a father at 17. He gave up boxing for music, forming a group called the Falcons that included cousin Levi Stubbs, who later went on to lead the Four Tops (two more of Wilson's cousins, Hubert Johnson and Levi's brother Joe, later became members of The Contours).

Wilson was soon discovered by talent agent Johnny Otis, who assigned him to join a group called the Thrillers. That group would later be known as The Royals (who would later evolve into R&B group, The Midnighters, but Wilson wasn't part of the group when they changed their name and signed with King Records). Wilson, however, has credited LaVern Baker for his discovery. After recording two versions of "Danny Boy" with Dizzy Gillespie's record label Dee Gee Records under the name Sonny Wilson (his nickname), Wilson was recruited by Billy Ward in 1953 to join a group he formed in 1950 called The Dominoes after a successful audition to replace the immensely popular Clyde McPhatter, who had left and formed his own group, The Drifters. Billy Ward felt a stage name would fit The Dominoes' image, hence Jackie Wilson. Prior to leaving The Dominoes, Wilson was coached by McPhatter on the sound Billy Ward wanted for his group, influencing Wilson's singing style. "I learned a lot from Clyde, that high-pitched choke he used and other things...Clyde was my man. Clyde and Billy Ward." [6] Forties blues singer Roy Brown was also an influence on him. Wilson was the group's lead singer for three years, but the Dominoes lost some of their stride with the departure of McPhatter. They were able to make appearances riding on the strength of the group's earlier hits, until 1956 when the Dominoes recorded Wilson with an unlikely interpretation of the pop hit, "St. Therese of the Roses", before he began a solo career in 1957. After leaving the Dominoes, he and cousin Levi got work at Detroit's Flame Show Bar, owned by music publisher Al Green. Green worked out a deal with Decca Records, and Wilson was signed to their subsidiary label, Brunswick.

Solo stardom

Shortly after Wilson signed a solo contract with Brunswick, Green suddenly died. His business partner, Nat Tarnopol, took over as Wilson's manager (and later rose to president of Brunswick). Wilson's first single was released, "Reet Petite" from the album He's So Fine, which became a modest R&B success (and many years later, a huge international smash). The song was written by another former boxer, Berry Gordy, Jr., who co-wrote it with partner Roquel Davis and Gordy's sister Gwen. Soon the trio composed and produced nine hit singles for Wilson, including "To Be Loved", "(That's Why) I Love You So", "I'll Be Satisfied" and his late-1958 signature song, "Lonely Teardrops", which peaked at No. 7 on the pop charts, No. 1 on the R&B charts, and established him as an R&B superstar known for his extraordinary multi-octave vocal range.

Due to his fervor when performing, with his dynamic dance moves, singing and impeccable dress, he was soon christened "Mr. Excitement", a title he would keep for the remainder of his career. His stagecraft in his live shows inspired Michael Jackson,[7] and Elvis Presley among others.[8] His powerful, electrifying live performances rarely failed to bring audiences to a state of frenzy.[9] Wilson also admitted he was influenced by Presley too, saying "“A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”[10]

In 1958, Davis and Gordy left Wilson after royalty disputes escalated between them and Nat Tarnopol. Davis soon became a successful staff songwriter for Chess Records, while Gordy used the money earned from his work with Wilson to form Motown Records in his native Detroit. Meanwhile, convinced that Wilson could venture out of R&B and rock and roll, Tarnopol had the singer record operatic ballads and easy listening material, pairing him with Decca Records' veteran arranger Dick Jacobs. Wilson scored hits as he entered the sixties with the No. 15 "Doggin' Around", the No. 1 pop ballad "Night", and "Baby Workout", another Top 10 hit (No. 5), which he composed with Midnighters member Alonzo Tucker. Top 10 hits continued with "Alone At Last" (No. 8 in 1960) and "My Empty Arms" (No. 9 in 1961).

Also in 1961, Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson, Nowstalgia...You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet, which included the only album liner notes he ever wrote: "...to the greatest entertainer of this or any other era...I guess I have just about every recording he's ever made, and I rarely missed listening to him on the radio...During the three years I've been making records, I've had the ambition to do an album of songs, which, to me, represent the great Jolson heritage...This is simply my humble tribute to the one man I admire most in this business...to keep the heritage of Jolson alive."[11][12] The album was a commercial failure.

Following the success "Baby Workout", Wilson experienced a lull in his career between 1964 and 1966 as Tarnopol and Brunswick Records released a succession of unsuccessful albums and singles. Despite the lack of sales success, he still made artistic gains as he recorded an album with Count Basie, as well as a series of duets with rhythm and blues legend Laverne Baker and gospel singer Linda Hopkins.

In 1966, he scored the first of two comeback singles with Chicago soul producer Carl Davis with "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," a No. 6 Pop smash in 1967, which became one of his final pop hits. This was followed by "I Get the Sweetest Feeling", which, despite its modest initial chart success in the U.S. (Billboard Pop #34), has since become one of his biggest international chart successes, becoming a Top 10 hit in England twice, in 1972 and in 1987, and a Top 20 hit in the Dutch Top 40, and has spawned numerous cover versions by other artists such as Edwin Starr, Will Young, Erma Franklin (Aretha's sister) and Liz McClarnon.

A key to his musical rebirth was that Davis insisted that Wilson no longer record with Brunswick's musicians; instead, he would record with legendary Detroit musicians normally employed by Motown Records. The musicians participated on Wilson's recordings due to their respect for Davis and Wilson.

By 1975, Wilson and the The Chi-Lites were Brunswick's only significant artists left on the aging label's roster. Until then, Wilson continued to record singles that found success on the R&B chart, but found no significant pop chart success. His final hit, "You Got Me Walkin'", written by Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites, was released in 1972 with the Chi-Lites backing him on vocals and instruments.

Personal life

Wilson's personal life was full of tragedies. On February 15, 1961 in Manhattan, Wilson was injured in a shooting. It was reported one of his girlfriends, Juanita Jones, shot and wounded him in a jealous rage when he returned to his apartment with another woman, fashion model Harlean Harris, an ex-girlfriend of Sam Cooke. To protect Wilson's reputation, his management concocted a story that Jones was an obsessed fan who had threatened to shoot herself, and that Wilson's intervention resulted in his being shot.[13] Wilson was shot twice: one bullet would result in the loss of a kidney, the other lodged too close to his spine to be operated on. Just months before Wilson suffered a heart attack, he was interviewed by author Arnold Shaw, and maintained that it actually was an overzealous fan whom he didn't know, that had shot him.[14] The story of the overzealous fan was accepted, and no charges were brought against Jones.

Freda Hood, Wilson's first wife, with whom he had four children, divorced him in 1965 after 14 years of marriage. His 16-year-old son, Jackie, Jr. was shot and killed on a neighbor's porch in 1970 and two of Wilson's daughters also died at a young age.[15] His daughter Sandra died in 1977 at the age of 24 of an apparent heart attack. Jacqueline Wilson was killed in 1988 in a drug related incident in Highland Park, Michigan.[16] The death of Jackie Jr. devastated Wilson, and for the next couple of years he remained mostly a recluse, drinking and using marijuana and cocaine.

Wilson's second marriage was to model Harlean Harris in 1967 with whom he had three children, but they separated soon after. Wilson later met and lived with Lynn Crochet. He was with Crochet until his heart attack in 1975. However, as he and Harris never officially divorced, Harris took the role of Wilson's caregiver for the singer's remaining nine years.

Wilson was a convert to Judaism.[17]

Later years and death

On September 25, 1975, Wilson suffered a massive heart attack while playing a Dick Clark show at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Wilson collapsed on stage while singing a line from his hit "Lonely Teardrops" ("My Heart is Crying"). He was revived after medical personnel worked nearly 30 minutes to stabilize his vitals, but the lack of oxygen to his brain left him comatose. He briefly emerged from his coma early in 1976 but slipped back into unconsciousness and was in a vegetative state for the remainder of his life, eight years and four months.[15] He died of pneumonia at the age of 49 at Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly, New Jersey.[18]

Wilson's funeral was attended by approximately 1,500 relatives, friends and fans. Initially, he was buried in an unmarked grave. Months later, however, fans in Detroit raised money to purchase a mausoleum and re-interred him and his mother inside the structure.[19] He is interred in the Westlawn Cemetery in Wayne, Michigan.[20]

In 1987, a segment on Wilson on ABC's 20/20 featured the complicated legacy and death of Wilson. Both Harlean Harris and Lynn Crochet were interviewed, and the segment implied that Tarnopol took unfair advantage of his dual role as Wilson's manager and president of Brunswick Records. Charges that Tarnopol swindled Wilson out of most of his earnings were not pursued after Tarnopol's death.

Tributes and legacy

In 1985, the soul/funk band The Commodores recorded "Nightshift" in memory of Wilson and soul singer Marvin Gaye, who both died in 1984. Reaching No. 1 R&B and No. 3 pop in the US, it was the group's biggest post-Lionel Richie hit.

Van Morrison also recorded a tribute song called "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)" on his 1972 album Saint Dominic's Preview. This song was later covered by Dexys Midnight Runners. When the track was performed on the British TV show Top of the Pops, a picture of darts player Jocky Wilson was used instead.

Michael Jackson honored Jackie Wilson at the 1984 Grammy Awards. Jackson dedicated his Album of the Year Grammy for Thriller to Wilson, saying, "In the entertainment business, there are leaders and there are followers. And I just want to say that I think Jackie Wilson was a wonderful entertainer...I love you and thank you so much."[21]

Jackie Wilson is mentioned in the song "Gone But Not Forgotten" sung by artist TQ, which is a song dedicated to the memory of famous musicians who have died. The lyric goes "..and Jackie, will you teach me how to glide across the stage?"

Wilson is mentioned in the rap song "Thugz Mansion" by Tupac Shakur. The lyric is:

"Seen a show with Marvin Gaye last night,
It had me shook, sippin' peppermint schnapps
With Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke."

Until Jackson's comments, Wilson's recording legacy had been dormant for almost a decade. Tarnopol owned Wilson's recordings due to Brunswick's separation from MCA, but the label had essentially closed down, essentially deleting Wilson's considerable recorded legacy. But when Jackson praised Wilson at the Grammys, interest in the legendary singer stirred, and Tarnopol released the first Wilson album (a two-record compilation) in almost nine years through Epic Records, Jackson's label at the time. Through Tarnopol's son, Wilson's music has become more available.

Wilson scored a posthumous hit when "Reet Petite" reached number one in the United Kingdom in 1986. This success was likely due in part to a new animated video made for the song, featuring a clay model of Wilson, that became hugely popular on television. The following year he hit the UK charts again with "I Get the Sweetest Feeling" (No.3), and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" (No.11).

Rita Coolidge covered "Higher and Higher" in 1977; her version reached No. 2 on the US pop charts, earning a gold record.

In 1999, Wilson's original version of "Higher and Higher" and "Lonely Teardrops" were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame,and both are on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987; that same year, he was portrayed in the Ritchie Valens biopic La Bamba by Howard Huntsberry.

In 1988, his version of "To Be Loved" was featured in the movie Coming to America, when Akeem and Lisa were falling in love. Akeem (Eddie Murphy) later came back home singing the song loudly (and poorly), waking up and infuriating his neighbors.

In 1989, "Higher and Higher" was featured heavily in the film Ghostbusters II, the soundtrack album of which featured a cover version of the song by Howard Huntsberry.

In 1992, Wilson was portrayed in the ABC miniseries by Grady Harrell in The Jacksons: An American Dream .

In 2005, Jackie Wilson was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. His recording of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2008.

In 2007, Wilson's music was featured in a film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's book Ecstasy: Three Tales of Chemical Romance.


For a detailed listing of singles and albums, see Jackie Wilson discography.

US and UK hit singles

Year Title Chart positions
US Top 100 pop US Top 10 R&B UK Top 75
1957 "Reet Petite" 62 - 6
"To Be Loved" 22 7 23
1958 "Lonely Teardrops" 7 1 -
1959 "That's Why (I Love You So)" 13 2 -
"I'll Be Satisfied" 20 6 -
"You Better Know It" 37 1 -
"Talk That Talk" 34 3 -
1960 "A Woman, a Lover, a Friend" 15 1 -
"Night" 4 - -
"Alone at Last" 8 - 50
"Doggin' Around" 15 1 -
"Am I the Man" - 10 -
1961 "My Empty Arms" 9 - -
"The Tear of the Year" - 10 -
"I'm Comin' on Back to You" 19 9 -
1963 "Baby Workout" 5 1 -
1966 "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" 11 5 -
1967 "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" 6 1 -
1969 (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher
(UK re-release)
- - 11
1970 "(I Can Feel These Vibrations) This Love is For Real" - 9 -
1972 "I Get the Sweetest Feeling"
(UK re-release)
- - 9
1986 "Reet Petite"
(UK re-release)
- - 1
1987 "I Get the Sweetest Feeling"
(UK re-release)
- - 3

Hit albums

Year Title Chart positions
US pop US R&B
1963 Baby Workout 36 *
Merry Christmas from Jackie Wilson 6 *
1966 Whispers - 15
1967 Higher and Higher - 28
1968 Manufacturers of Soul - 18


  1. ^ "Jackie Wilson (American singer)". britannica.com. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/644711/Jackie-Wilson. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  2. ^ Jackie Wilson at Allmusic
  3. ^ "Jackie Wilson". rockhall.com. http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/jackie-wilson. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  4. ^ "The Immortals: The First Fifty". Rolling Stone Issue 946. Rolling Stone. http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/5939214/the_immortals_the_first_fifty. 
  5. ^ The Black Elvis: Jackie Wilson, Heyday Publishing, Inc. (October 1998)
  6. ^ Honkers And Shouters. The Golden Years Of Rhythm And Blues. Crowell-Collier Press, New York, 1978.
  7. ^ Junod, Tom (2009-06-29). "Michael Jackson: The First Punk, the King at Last". esquire.com. http://www.esquire.com/the-side/opinion/michael-jackson-obituary-062609#ixzz0bD2lMU8c. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  8. ^ Miller, James (2000-09-19). Flowers in the Dustbin: The Rise of Rock and Roll, 1947-1977. Fireside. pp. 160. ISBN 0-684-86560-2. 
  9. ^ Cox, Erica. "Jackie Wilson: Mr. Excitement – A R&B Pioneer and Balladeer". loti.com. http://www.loti.com/fifties_music/jackie_wilson.htm. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  10. ^ "Quotes By and About Elvis". elvis.com. http://www.elvis.com/elvisology/quotes/aboutelvis.asp. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  11. ^ Giddins, Gary. Rhythm-a-ning: Jazz Tradition and Innovation, Da Capo (2000), pgs 148-149
  12. ^ "Jackie Wilson's Tribute to Al Jolson". youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lkCOor91yo. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  13. ^ Guralnick, P: Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, p.355. Abacus, 2006.
  14. ^ Honkers And Shouters. The Golden Years Of Rhythm And Blues. Crowell-Collier Press, New York, 1978.
  15. ^ a b Simmonds, Jeremy (2008). The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago Review Press. pp. 188. ISBN 1-556-52754-3. 
  16. ^ http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-3901112.html
  17. ^ Gale, Thomson (2007). Contemporary Black Biography: Profiles From the International Black Community. Gale/Cengage Learning. pp. 165. ISBN 0-787-67932-1. 
  18. ^ "Singer Jackie Wilson Dies After 8 Years In a Coma" (in English). Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 65 (22): 54. 1984-02-26. ISSN 0021-5996. http://books.google.com/books?id=BbEDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA54&dq=jackie+wilson+pneuomnia&ei=xMo7S7_cM6G0NMCCjM4B&cd=5#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  19. ^ http://books.google.com/books?ei=Vco7S9XmBpG-Ms6L3LQB&cd=1&q=Jackie+Wilson+mausoleum&btnG=Search+Books
  20. ^ "Jackie Wilson Mourned By 1,500 During Funeral At Baptist Church In Detroit" (in English). Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 65 (23): 14. 1984-02-13. ISSN 0021-5996. http://books.google.com/books?id=BrEDAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA14&dq=Jackie+Wilson+funeral&ei=Vco7S9XmBpG-Ms6L3LQB&cd=1#v=onepage&q=Jackie%20Wilson%20funeral&f=false. 
  21. ^ Lisa D. Campbell, Michael Jackson: The King of Pop, p. 77

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