Jackie Wilson

  • R&B and soul singer born in 1934 from Detroit Michigan. Died in 1984 of pneumonia.
  • Growing up in Detroit, Wilson was a gang member and often was in trouble. His mother sang in the church choir, and she encouraged Jackie to sing at church. He joined a church quartet, the Ever Ready Gospel Singers, which toured local churches. Wilson spent most of the money he earned in the group on alcohol. He dropped out of school at age 15 after receiving his second juvenile detention order.
  • In his late teens, he performed at a Detroit nightclub, and soon formed a group with his cousins called the Falcons. A talent agent discovered Wilson, recruiting him to join a group called The Thrillers. In 1953, he auditioned to replace Clyde McPhatter in Billy Ward’s R&B group the Dominoes, and he was hired to join the group. McPhatter and Ward coached Wilson on his vocal style and stage presence. Wilson was the lead singer for the Dominoes for three years, and the group released nearly 20 singles, four of which charted.
  • In 1957, Wilson started his solo career. His first single was Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want To Meet). It reached #62 on the Hot 100 chart and #6 in the UK (30 years later, it was used in a popular BBC documentary series and the single was re-issued. It was so popular, it topped the charts in the UK and was a top 10 hit in six other European countries). In 1958, his debut studio album, He’s So Fine, was released. It included Reet Petite as well as another charting single, To Be Loved. His second album, Lonely Teardrops, was released in 1958, and the title track became his first #1 single on the R&B chart. Two other singles from the album, That’s Why I Love You So and You Better Know It, peaked at #2 and #1 respectively on the R&B chart, and Wilson had become an R&B superstar.
  • His live performances added to his fame. His shows were high energy and sensual, with dynamic dancing that often brought his audiences to a frenzy. He would sing while doing back flips, splits, knee drops and spins, throwing his jacket into the audience and inviting women onto the stage to kiss him. This earned Wilson the moniker of “Mr. Excitement,” which he used throughout his career.
  • During the 60s, Wilson released 18 studio albums and four compilation albums. Four singles during the decade reached #1 on the R&B chart – A Woman A Lover A Friend, Doggin’ Around, Baby Workout and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher. The latter two reached #5 and #6 respectively on the Hot 100 chart. His highest charting Hot 100 single was in 1960, when Night reached #4 on the chart, and #3 on the R&B chart. In 1961 alone, Wilson had ten songs chart on the Hot 100, and over 40 songs landed on that chart during the 60s.
  • By the 70s, the best of his career was behind him. Five albums were released between 1970 and 1976, with several songs charting. His final hit was (I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real, which reached #9 on the R&B chart in 1972.
  • In 1975, he was performing in Dick Clark’s Good Ol’ Rock and Roll Revue at a nightclub when he suffered a massive heart attack while singing Lonely Teardrops, hitting his head on the floor when he fell. He was resuscitated but slipped into a coma. In early 1976, he partially recovered, but soon deteriorated such that he could not speak or care for himself. He lived in a nursing home in an incapacitated state until his death eight years after his heart attack, at the age of 49.
  • Wilson’s legacy grew after his death. In 1987, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. His songs Higher and Higher and Lonely Teardrops were selected for the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, and both are on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Songs of All Time at #248 and #315 respectively. Rolling Stone’s 2010 list of the Greatest Artists of All Time put Wilson at #69 on the list. Artists that proclaimed his greatness included Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Because of his stage personality, many people used to call him “Black Elvis.” When a reporter asked Elvis about that, Elvis replied “well, I guess that makes me ‘White Jackie’.” You can definitely hear and see a little Elvis in his performance of Lonely Teardrops on American Bandstand here – check it out, what a great voice!

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