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Guide Profile: Jackie Wilson

By

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson

Born:

Jack Leroy Wilson, June 9, 1934, Detroit, MI; died January 21st, 1984 (Mount Holly, NJ)

Genres:

R&B, Soul, Pop, Pop-Soul, Doo-Wop

Instruments:

Vocals

Contributions to music:

  • One of R&B's first big crossover stars
  • Helped bring about the foundation of "soul" music
  • Brought an operatic vocal method to pop and R&B
  • Developed a stage show that practically defined rock showmanship
  • A tremendous influence on Elvis Presley, James Brown, Michael Jackson, and other flamboyant rock stars

Early years:

Growing up in a troubled home, Jackie, like many Detroiters, turned simultaneously to the church and to gang life. Not particularly religious, Jackie nevertheless cut his musical teeth in local gospel groups, getting into frequent trouble with the law, dropping out of school, singing in local clubs, and becoming a Golden Gloves champion. Johnny Otis discovered his vocal talent, and after a series of false starts, Wilson wound up as Clyde McPhatter's replacement in Billy Ward and the Dominoes.

Success:

Through a complex series of events, Jackie soon came under contract to Nat Tarnopol, a manager with ties to the mob. So while Wilson's solo career -- jumpstarted in 1956 with "Reet Petite" -- was often exciting, it was also often bland, mainly because Nat had one eye on the pop market at all times. Jackie's critical standing suffered; nevertheless, he enjoyed steady popularity in pop and R&B circles until about 1963 or so, when soul took a harder edge and Wilson found it hard to keep up.

Later years:

Still tied under contract to Tarnopol, Jackie managed a brief but amazing renaissance in the late Sixties with "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." The comeback proved short-lived, however, and Wilson survived only by playing gigs on the oldies circuit. On September 29, 1975, during a show in Cherry Hill, NJ, Wilson collapsed onstage while singing his comeback hit, reportedly from a massive heart attack. He went into a long coma soon thereafter, passing away on January 21st, 1984.

Other facts:

  • Was known as "Sonny" in his early life, to distinguish him from his father, Jack
  • Many of his earliest hits were written by Berry Gordy in his pre-Motown days
  • Elvis Presley can be heard praising Jackie in the "Million Dollar Quartet" sessions
  • Was shot and seriously wounded by a girlfriend in the early Sixties
  • Motown's Funk Brothers play on "Higher And Higher"
  • Dick Clark, a lifelong friend, was present for Wilson's heart attack, and paid for all medical expenses until the singer died

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (2001)

Important Songs:


#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "Lonely Teardrops" (1958)
  • "You Better Know It" (1959)
  • "Doggin' Around" (1960)
  • "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend" (1960)
  • "Baby Workout" {1963}
  • "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" (1967)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "Lonely Teardrops" (1959)
  • "Alone At Last" (1960)
  • "Night" (1960)
  • "My Empty Arms" (1961)
  • "Baby Workout" {1963}
  • "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" (1967)
R&B:
  • "To Be Loved" (1958)
  • "I'll Be Satisfied" (1959)
  • "Talk That Talk" (1959)
  • "That's Why (I Love You So)" (1959)
  • "Am I The Man" (1960)
  • "I'm Comin' On Back To You" (1961)
  • "The Tear Of The Year" (1961)
  • "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" (1966)
  • "(I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real" (1971)
Top 10 albums:
Pop:
  • Merry Christmas from Jackie Wilson (1963)
Other important recordings: "Reet Petite," "(You Were Made For) All My Love," "Please Tell Me Why," "Years From Now," "You Don't Know What It Means," "I Just Can't Help It," "Shake A Hand," "Shake! Shake! Shake!," "Danny Boy," "No Pity (In The Naked City)," "Think Twice," "I Don't Want To Lose You," "I've Lost You," "I Get The Sweetest Feeling," "Since You Showed Me How To Be Happy," "Helpless," "Love Is Funny That Way"
Covered by: Rita Coolidge, Shakin' Stevens, Michael Jackson, Michael McDonald
Appears in the movies: "Go, Johnny, Go!" (1959), "The Teenage Millionaire" (1961)
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