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him “Mr. Entertainment,” and indeed Jackie Wilson was a
gifted singer of considerable range and an athletic
showman who commanded a stage like few before or since.
He was a natural tenor who sang with the graceful
control of Sam Cooke and moved with the frenzied
dynamism of James Brown. With all the flair and finesse
at his disposal, Wilson routinely drove audiences to the
brink of hysteria. A mainstay of the R&B and pop charts
from 1958 to 1968, Wilson amassed two dozen Top Forty
singles, all released on the Brunswick label. On record,
he was often saddled with grandiose arrangements and
dated material, but he transcended even the most
bathetic settings with the tremulous excitement of his
The Detroit-born Wilson turned to R&B after stints as a
gospel singer and amateur boxer. He joined Billy Ward
and His Dominoes as lead singer in 1953, replacing Clyde
McPhatter when the latter left to join the Drifters.
Wilson remained with the Dominoes until 1957, singing on
such high-charting numbers as "St. Therese of the
Roses." Wilson launched his solo career in 1958 with the
singles "Reet Petite" and “To Be Loved,” both written
for him by a pre-Motown Berry Gordy, Jr., back when the
latter was a struggling songwriter. Another Gordy
composition, "Lonely Teardrops," reached #7 on the pop
chart and went to #1 on the R&B side. Other
chart-topping R&B hits followed: "You Better Know It,"
"Doggin' Around," "A Woman, a Lover, a Friend." Wilson’s
biggest hit, the exquisitely soulful "(Your Love Keeps
Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," came in 1967.
Through it all, Wilson tore it up onstage with an act
that radiated excitement and sex appeal. His popularity
extended overseas, where, in 1963 he headlined a British
show that had the Beatles as one of his opening acts.
Though the hits stopped coming as musical tastes shifted
in the late Sixties, Wilson remained active on the
performing front. He was, in fact, in the midst of a
1975 show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when he suffered a
stroke that plunged him into a coma. Wilson remained
hospitalized for more than eight years until his death
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
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