Jackie Wilson was born on June 9th, 1934 in Detroit, Michigan Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. Wilson replaced lead singer Clyde McPhatter in Billy Ward’s Dominoes in 1953 before going solo. As a young man, Wilson was with a group called “The Ever Ready Gospel Singers”. Jackie as a young man drifted into trouble with the law and ended up in juvenile corrections where he learned to box, a career he thought he might pursue. Wikipedia states that Jackie next formed “The Falcons” but Marv Goldberg’s group bio makes no mention of this.
Wilson was a cousin of the Stubb family children which included Levi who went on to become one of “The Four Tops” and Joe Stubbs who with another Wilson cousin, Hubert Johnson, both went to Motown’s “Contours”.
Johnny Otis more or less “discovered” Wilson and placed him in a group called “The Thrillers” a group evolving first into “The Royals” before becoming “The Midnighters” by which time Wilson had departed.
Wilson then recorded solo as “Sonny Wilson” for Dizzy Gillespie’s own record label “Dee Gee Records”. It was Hank Ballard who convinced Wilson to use his name in the form “Jackie”.
Jackie placed 54 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Charts between 1957 and 1972 entering the Top 20 thirteen times, with his biggest hit being “Night” which reached number 4. He had six number 1 songs on the R&B charts. His final charting song came in 1975 accompanying “The Chi Lites” with Don’t Burn No Bridges”. Jackie composed many songs often working with others. He penned his second charting record, 1958’s “To Be Loved” which is one of my favorites.
It is often reported that Jackie Wilson collapsed while performing suffering a heart attack on stage and further – some reporting that the heart attack came right as he was finishing the line “my heart is crying, crying” from the song “Lonely Teardrops” – hmmmmm… not likely?
Wilson died on January 21st, 1984 at the age of 49 as the result of pneumonia, which followed a long period of debilitation after having a heart attack on stage on September 29th of 1975 during one of Dick Clark’s “Good Ol’ Rock and Roll Revue” performances in New Jersey. Jackie was never able to regain the ability not only to perform but to barely meet life’s basic function requirements.
Motown’s Commodores paid tribute to Jackie and Marvin Gaye with their hit single “Nightshift” released in 1985.