In the annals of black music history, Jackie Wilson remains one of the most important entertainers of the genre, a showman known as "Mr. Dynamite" who influenced artists like Elvis Presley, a recording artist with close to fifty charted hits and arguably one of America's first black male superstars, rivaling Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and James Brown in terms of prominence and impact. With his dazzling live stage act, charisma and handsome good looks, Jackie built a solid audience for himself and tales are legendary of women fainting, crying and falling out as he would perform soulful hits like the 1960 million-seller "Doggin' Around" and "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend."
Born in 1934 in the Highland Park section of Detroit, Jackie's early interest was in amateur boxing but music played a significant role in his life: after singing in the local church choir, Jackie entered several local talent contests and in 1953, he was asked to replace Clyde McPhatter in the popular â€˜50s group, Billy Ward & The Dominoes. Jackie stayed with the group long enough to enjoy Top 20 success with the 1956 hit, "St Therese Of The Roses" and the R&B hits "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down" and "Rags To Riches."
In 1957, Jackie went solo and was provided with an immediate hit courtesy future Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. who was just beginning his own songwriting career. The song, "Reet Petite" started a run of hits with writer Gordy that included the pop/R&B smash "To Be Loved" and the now-classic "Lonely Teardrops," the first of six R&B chartoppers for the man with an amazing vocal range. Jackie's natural falsetto and skill at singing in the upper part of his register meant that he could handle tunes like "Night," a gold single in 1960 that was actually based on a Saint-Saens aria!
While he did score a couple more hits with classical pieces - notably "Alone At Last" and "My Empty Arms," it was as an R&B powerhouse vocalist that Jackie Wilson thrilled packed theaters and nightclubs. Early '60s smashes included "Am I The Man," "The Tear Of The Year," "I'm Comin' On Back To You" and the frenetic "Baby Workout," all recorded for Brunswick Records which remained Jackie's recording home for his entire career.
Albums reflected Jackie's phenomenal diversity as a performer and included the best-selling 1962 set, "Live At The Copa" and six years later, "Manufacturers Of Soul" that featured Count Basie and his band. Ever popular as a stage performer, Jackie reinvented himself as a contemporary soul artist by virtue of late â€˜60s hits like "Whispers," the classic "Higher And Higher" (a Top 10 pop and No. R&B hit in 1967) and "I Get The Sweetest Feeling," expanding his appeal to a whole new generation of record buyers in the process.
Jackie continued recording and performing until 1975 when he collapsed during a show at the Latin Casino in New Jersey. Suffering from the effects of a stroke, he spent his last nine years hospitalized, mostly in a coma, until he passed away on January 21, 1984. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987, Jackie Wilson left behind an incredible legacy of recorded music, much of which has been made available again by Brunswick Records, and fond memories for all those who had the privilege of seeing one of the greatest entertainers in popular music in action, thrilling audiences with his own special brand of soul.
Contributed by David Nathan