Jackie Wilson (June 9, 1934 - January 21, 1984) was a highly acclaimed and influential R&B/soul singer with impassioned tenor vocals, a stunning four-octave range, and a dynamic stage presence who became famous beginning in the early 1950s as the lead singer of Bill Ward & His Dominoes. Best known for the catchy "Lonely Teardrops" (1958), his many signature songs also include the operatic "Night" (1960), the gospel-infused "Baby Workout" (1963), and the rousing "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" (1967).
Born Jack Leroy Wilson Jr. in Highland Park, Michigan, he sang as a child in his church and by his teens, had begun performing professionally as a member of the Ever Ready Gospel Singers. During the early 1950s, he worked with a number of other vocal groups and released several solo singles on Dee Gee Records (as Sonny Wilson) before joining Bill Ward & His Dominoes in 1953 as lead singer. He can be heard on the group's "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down" (1953), "Rags To Riches" (1953), and "St. Therese Of The Roses" (1956). Wilson then went solo in 1957 and signed with Brunswick. At that time, he worked closely with then-future Motown founder, Berry Gordy Jr., who co-wrote "Lonely Teardrops," "Reet Petite," and many of Wilson's other earliest hits.
Jackie Wilson debuted in late 1957 on the Pop/Rock charts with the exuberant "Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You Ever Want To Meet)." His stardom took off the following year with "Lonely Teardrops" (1958), a gold-certified Top 10 Pop/Rock hit and the first of many R&B chart-toppers that also include "You Better Know It" (1959), "Doggin' Around" (1960), "A Woman, A Lover, A Friend" (1960), "Baby Workout" (1963), and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" (1967). Wilson's long string of hits on both charts, which continued through the early 1970s, also include such Pop/Rock crossover favorites as "To Be Loved" (1958), "That's Why (I Love You So)" (1959), "I'll Be Satisfied" (1959), "Night" (1960), "(You Were Made For) All My Love" (1960), "Alone At Last" (1960), "My Empty Arms" (1961), and "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" (1966). His final charting song came in 1975 with "Don't Burn No Bridges" (with The Chi-Lites), a minor R&B hit.
A master showman (a.k.a. "Mr. Excitement") who captivated audiences with his athletic dance moves, Wilson continued to perform and record actively through late 1975 when he collapsed on stage after a massive heart attack while headlining a Dick Clark oldies concert. He slipped into a coma, gradually awakening over a period of eight months, and remained semi-comatose until his death in 1984 from complications of pneumonia.
Widely regarded as one of the most important artists of his generation, Jackie Wilson has been cited as a major influence by such top acts as Elvis Presley, James Brown, and Michael Jackson. His numerous (and mostly posthumous) honors and accolades included a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2019) and being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1987), the Michigan Rock & Roll Legends Hall of Fame (2005), and the R&B Music Hall of Fame (2013). In 1999, two of his songs were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame: "Lonely Teardrops" and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher." He was honored in 2003 with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Legacy Tribute Award, and in 2004, he was ranked at #69 by Rolling Stone magazine in its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
- For more info about Jackie Wilson's life and career, visit jackiewilsonfoundation.org.
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Jackie Wilson performs "That's Why (I Love You So)" on The Ed Sullivan Show (January 21, 1962).
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- Baby Workout 1963
- Doggin' Around 1960
(This song later also charted for Klique (1983).)
- (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher 1967
(This song later also became a hit for Rita Coolidge (1977).)
- Night 1960
- Shake! Shake! Shake! 1963
- Whispers (Gettin' Louder) 1966
- A Woman, A Lover, A Friend 1960
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