A Rockapaedia Obituary
Jackie Wilson died aged forty-nine on 21st January 1984 from pneumonia and was initially buried in an unmarked grave at Westlawn Cemetery near Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. untill a fundraiser collected enough money to purchase a headstone.
Jackie Wilson was born Jack Leroy Wilson Jr. on 9th June 1934, in Detroit, Michigan,U.S.A. as the third and only surviving child of singer-songwriter Jack Leroy Wilson, Sr. and Eliza Mae Wilson. Jackie Wilson often visited his family in Columbus and was greatly influenced by the choir at Billups Chapel. Growing up in the suburban Detroit enclave of Highland Park, Jackie Wilson joined a gang called the Shakers and often got himself in trouble. Jackie Wilson's alcoholic father was frequently absent and usually unemployed. His parents separated shortly after Jackie's ninth birthday.
Jackie Wilson's life story is brimming with trouble. In 1960 in New Orleans, he was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer when fans tried to climb on stage after he assaulted a policeman who had shoved one of the fans. Jackie Wilson had a reputation for being short-tempered. Patti LaBelle accused Jackie Wilson of sexually assaulting her at a theater in Brooklyn, New York City.
In February 1961 in Manhattan, NewYork City Jackie Wilson was injured in a shooting. Media reports stated the real story behind this incident is that one of his girlfriends, Juanita Jones, shot and wounded him in a jealous rage when he returned to his Manhattan apartment with another woman, fashion model Harlean Harris, an ex-girlfriend of Sam Cooke. Jackie Wilson's management supposedly concocted a story to protect Jackie Wilson's reputation; that Jones was an obsessed fan who had threatened to shoot herself, and that Jackie Wilson's intervention resulted in him being shot. Jackie Wilson was shot in the stomach: The bullet resulted in the loss of a kidney, and lodged too close to his spine to be operated on. In early 1975, during an interview with author Arnold Shaw, Jackie Wilson maintained it actually was a zealous fan whom he did not know that shot him. He also said he had some trouble in 1961 when a crazy chick took a shot at him and nearly put him away for good.
A month and a half later after the shooting incident, Jackie Wilson was discharged from the hospital. At the time Jackie had declared annual earnings of two hundred and sixty three thousand dollars, while the average salary that a man earned then was just five thousand dollars a year. But he discovered that, despite being at the peak of success, he was broke. Around this time the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized Jackie Wilson's Detroit family home. Tarnopol and his accountants were supposed to take care of such matters. Jackie Wilson made arrangements with the IRS to make restitution on the unpaid taxes; he also re-purchased the family home at auction. Nat Tarnopol had taken advantage of Jackie Wilson's naïveté, mismanaging his money since becoming his manager. Tarnopol also had power-of-attorney over Jackie Wilson's finances, giving him complete control over Jackie's money. Jackie Wilson was an over trusting man, trusting people he perhaps should not have like Nat Tarnopol and some of his other managers. However, Nat Tarnopol never paid Jackie Wilson monies he had coming to him, and Jackie died owing a large sum to the IRS and Brunswick Records.
In March 1967, Jackie Wilson and friend/drummer Jimmy Smith were arrested in South Carolina on "morals charges"; the two were entertaining two 24-year-old white women in their motel room.
Freda Wilson, Jackie's first wife, with whom he had four children, divorced him in 1965 after 14 years of marriage as she was frustrated with his notorious womanizing. Although the divorce was amicable, Freda regretted her decision. His 16-year-old son, Jackie Jr, was shot and killed on a neighbor's porch near their Detroit home in 1970. The death of Jackie Jr. devastated Jackie Wilson. He sank into a period of depression, and for the next couple of years remained mostly a recluse. More tragedy hit when two of Jackie Wilson's daughters died at a young age. His daughter Sandra died in 1977 at the age of twenty-four of a suspected heart attack; another daughter, Jacqueline, was killed in 1988 in a drug-related incident in Highland Park, Michigan.
Jackie Wilson's second marriage was to model Harlean in 1967 with whom he had three children, but they too separated in 1970. Jackie Wilson later met and lived with Lynn Guidry, a woman who had two children with him. He was with Lynn, who was under the impression that she was his legal wife, until his heart attack in 1975. However, as he and Harris never officially divorced, Harlean took on the role of Jackie Wilson's caregiver for the singer's remaining nine years.
Jackie Wilson began singing as a youth, accompanying his mother, an excellent church choir singer. In his early teens he joined a quartet, the Ever Ready Gospel Singers, who gained popularity in local churches. Jackie Wilson was not very religious, but he enjoyed singing in public. The money the quartet earned from performing was often spent on alcohol which Jackie Wilson began drinking at an early age.
Jackie Wilson dropped out of high school at age fifteen having been sentenced to detention in the Lansing Corrections system for juveniles twice. During his second stint in detention, Jackie Wilson learned to box and began competing in the Detroit amateur circuit at age sixteen. Jackie Wilson's record in the Golden Gloves was 2 and 8. After his mother forced Jackie to quit boxing, Jackie Wilson was forced by her father to marry Freda Hood, and he became a father at age seventeen. It is estimated that Jackie Wilson had fathered at least ten other children before marrying Freda. He began working at Lee's Sensation Club as a solo singer, then formed a group called the Falcons that included cousin Levi Stubbs, who later led the Four Tops. The other Falcons joined Hank Ballard as part of the Midnighters including Alonzo Tucker and Billy Davis. Tucker and Jackie Wilson collaborated as songwriters on a few songs Jackie Wilson recorded, including his 1963 hit "Baby Workout".
Jackie Wilson was discovered by talent agent Johnny Otis, who recruited him for a group called the Thrillers. Jackie Wilson signed on with manager Al Green. Green owned two music publishing companies, Pearl Music and Merrimac Music, and Detroit's Flame Show Bar, where Jackie Wilson met Baker.
After recording Jackie Wilson's first version of "Danny Boy" and a few other tracks on Dizzy Gillespie's record label Dee Gee Records under the name Sonny Wilson, Jackie Wilson eventually was hired by Billy Ward in 1953 to join a group Ward formed in 1950 called the Dominoes, after Jackie Wilson's successful audition to replace the immensely popular Clyde McPhatter, who left the Dominoes and formed the Drifters.
Before leaving the Dominoes, Clyde McPhatter coached Jackie Wilson on the sound Billy Ward wanted for his group, influencing Jackie's singing style and stage presence. The 1940s Blues singer Roy Brown was also a major influence on him; and Jackie Wilson grew up listening to the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan and Al Jolson.
Jackie Wilson was the group's lead singer for three years, but the Dominoes lost some of their stride with the departure of McPhatter. They made appearances riding on the strength of the group's earlier hits, until 1956 when the Dominoes recorded Jackie Wilson with an unlikely interpretation of the pop hit "St. Therese of the Roses", giving the Dominoes another brief moment in the spotlight. In 1957 Jackie Wilson began a solo career, left the Dominoes, collaborated with his cousin Levi, and secured performances at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. Later, Al Green secured a deal with Decca Records, and Jackie Wilson was signed to its subsidiary label Brunswick.
Shortly after Jackie Wilson signed a solo contract with Brunswick, Green suddenly died. Green's business partner Nat Tarnopol took over as Jackie Wilson's manager and ultimately rose to president of Brunswick.
Jackie Wilson's first single was released, "Reet Petite", which became a modest Rythm&Blues success and many years later, an international smash hit. Jackie Wilson's late-1958 signature song, "Lonely Teardrops", which peaked at number seven on the pop charts, ranked number one on the Rythm&Blues charts in the U.S.A., and established Jackie Wilson as a Rythm&Blues superstar known for his extraordinary, operatic multi-octave vocal range. Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA.
Due to Jackie Wilson's fervor when performing, with his dynamic dance moves, impassioned singing and impeccable dress, he was soon christened "Mr. Excitement", a title Jackie Wilson kept for the remainder of his career. Jackie Wilson's stagecraft in his live shows inspired James Brown, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, as well as a host of other artists that followed. Presley was so impressed with Jackie Wilson that he made it a point to meet him, and the two instantly became good friends. In a photo of the two posing together, Presley's caption in the autograph reads "You got you a friend for life.". Jackie Wilson was sometimes called "The Black Elvis". Reportedly, when asked about this Presley said, "I guess that makes me the white Jackie Wilson." Jackie Wilson also said he was influenced by Presley, and said that 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.
Jackie Wilson's powerful, electrifying live performances rarely failed to bring audiences to a state of frenzy. His live performances consisted of knee-drops, splits, spins, back-flips, one-footed across-the-floor slides, removing his tie and jacket and throwing them off the stage, and a great deal of basic boxing steps and one of his favorite routines, getting some of the less attractive women in the audience to come up to the stage and kiss him. Jackie Wilson often said that if he got the ugliest girl in the audience to come up and kiss him, they would all think they could have him and keep coming back and buying his records.
Jackie Wilson was a regular on TV, making regular appearances on such shows as The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, Shindig!, Shivaree and Hullabaloo. His only movie appearance was in the rock and roll film 'Go,Johnny, Go!' where he performed his 1959 hit song "You Better Know It".
In 1958, Davis and Gordy left Jackie Wilson and Brunswick after royalty disputes escalated between them and Nat Tarnopol. Davis soon became a successful staff songwriter and producer for Chess Records, while Gordy started his own recording studio, Hitsville USA, the foundation of Motown Records in his native Detroit. Meanwhile, convinced that Jackie Wilson could venture out of Rythm&Blues and rock and roll, Nat Tarnopol had him record operatic ballads and easy listening material, pairing him with Decca Records' veteran arranger Dick Jacobs.
Jackie Wilson scored hits as he entered the 1960s with the number fifteen "Doggin' Around", the number one pop ballad "Night", another million-seller, and "Baby Workout", another Top ten hit, which he composed with The Midnighters member Alonzo Tucker. His songwriting alliance with Tucker also turned out other songs, including "No Pity" and "I'm So Lonely." Top ten hits continued with "Alone At Last" and "My Empty Arms".
Also in 1961, Jackie Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson, Nowstalgia ... You Ain't Heard Nothin' but the album was a commercial failure.
Following the success of "Baby Workout", Jackie Wilson experienced a lull in his career between 1964 and 1966 as Nat Tarnopol and Brunswick Records released a succession of unsuccessful albums and singles. Despite the lack of sales success, Jackie Wilson still made artistic gains as he recorded an album with Count Basie, as well as a series of duets with R & B artist LaVern Baker and gospel singer Linda Hopkins.
In 1966, Jackie Wilson scored the first of two big comeback singles with the established Chicago soul producer Carl Davis with "Whispers" and "Higher and Higher", number six pop hit in 1967, became one of his final hits ; followed by "I Get the Sweetest Feeling", despite its modest initial chart success in the U.S.A. has since become one of his biggest international chart successes, ranking in the Top ten twice in the UK in 1972 and in 1987, ranked in the Dutch Top 40.
A key to Jackie Wilson's musical rebirth was Davis insisting that he no longer record with Brunswick's musicians in New York; instead, he recorded with legendary Detroit musicians normally employed by Motown Records and also Davis' own Chicago-based session players. The Detroit musicians, known as the Funk Brothers, participated on Jackie Wilson's recordings due to their respect for Davis and Jackie Wilson.
By 1975, Jackie Wilson and the Chi-Lites were the only significant artists left on Brunswick's roster. Jackie Wilson had continued to record singles that found success on the Rythm&Blues 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.
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