What do Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson have in common?  They both idolized Jackie Wilson.  Jackie Wilson was a premiere showman (nicknamed Mr. Excitement) with dazzling dance moves and stage presence.  Wilson could somersault backwards and do a split on cue.  He was an amazing entertainer with original dance moves and natural charisma.   He left his audience in awe.

When Michael Jackson toured with his brothers, a young Jackson would stand in the wings and study him.  Elvis Presley was also known to study Wilson from backstage.



Jackie Wilson was born Jack Leroy Wilson on June 9, 1934 in Detroit Michigan.  Wilson was a mama’s boy and he was very popular among the ladies. Wilson was a snazzy dresser and he was known to serenade women.  Early on, he decided to pursue a career as a singer.  

He joined Billy Ward & the Dominoes in 1953, replacing Clyde McPhatter.  The band didn't sustain any momentum after losing McPhatter, the superstar of the group, though Wilson did gain many more fans, including Elvis Presley.

Wilson's solo career begin with 1956’s “Reet Petite,” written by Berry Gordy, Jr., then an unknown who would later go on to write many of Wilson's other hits, such as “Lonely Teardrops” and “I'll Be Satisfied.”  When Gordy launched Motown, people were surprised that Jackie, a Detroit native, didn’t sign with the label.

Wilson's brand of pop, soul and R&B helped him cross over to the mainstream, having several pop hits.   His dynamic stage performances earned him the nickname "Mr. Excitement."  His performance of "Lonely Teardrops" on the Ed Sullivan is considered a classic.  Women were swooning and fainting in the audience.  The media began referring to him as the "Black Elvis."

Offstage, despite being married and keeping his wife pregnant every nine months, Wilson was a ladies man with women all over the world.

Jackie was always the life of the party and the center of attention. Surrounded by women, he loved to drink and tell jokes.

When Jackie danced at these parties, people were baffled, he was the worse dancer on the dance floor when he danced with a partner but he was electrifying when he danced solo.  He would ditch his partner and put on a show, doing kicks, spins and splits to wild applause.

Jackie could never pass a mirror without looking in it.  He was obsessive about his hair, every strand of hair had to be in place.  His pompadour was his pride and joy.

Jackie was also obsessive about his appearance, his suits had to be tailored, with a silk scarf in the breast pocket and he always wore silk shirts.  He also wore designer shoes.

Jackie was a hometown hero and a popular sight around Detroit, fans often approached him for autographs when he emerged from his Caddy.  Jackie enjoyed his fans.  He also liked to dine at the popular soul food restaurants in Detroit. Dinner was often on the house and people would often send over drinks for him and his entourage.

In the 1960’s, Wilson continued to record singles, many of them operatic and overblown, such as “Danny Boy” or “Night,” others were up-tempo and exciting, such as “Baby Workout” in 1963.

In 1961, media outlets were fed the following story: ‘Jackie Wilson has been shot and seriously wounded by a female fan.’  What really occurred, Wilson was shot by a girlfriend, who caught him with a black model in a hotel, despite being shot, Wilson stumbled down the hall and tried to take the gun from his assailant, she pushed him away and ran out of the hotel, Wilson followed and collapsed on the sidewalk. 

Wilson made a full recovery but the bullet was lodged near his spine; therefore the doctors couldn’t remove it.  Throughout his life, Wilson performed with a bullet inside of him.  It didn’t slow him down one bit; he still performed his breathtaking dance moves.

Wilson’s career began to suffer in the mid 60’s.  Due to bad management, Wilson wasn’t as popular as his peers.  He also began to drink heavy and gain weight.  He managed a brief revival that resulted in two hits, “Whispers” and “Higher and Higher.” These would be his last hits.  He rarely charted in the 1970’s.

According to published reports, allegedly, Wilson began taking drugs, the drinking had increased and he was in dire financial straits. He was now overweight and playing small venue’s just to make ends meet.

Wilson’s wife would eventually divorce him due to years of womanizing.  Throughout the years, Wilson had also fathered kids outside the marriage.

While playing a Dick Clark oldies show at the Latin Casino in New Jersey in September 1975, Wilson suffered an on-stage heart attack while singing “Lonely Teardrops.” He lapsed into a coma, suffering major brain damage, and was hospitalized.  Dick Clark paid the majority of his medical bills and several R&B singers organized charity events to help with the expenses.

Jackie Wilson died in 1984.  Wilson was one of the greatest entertainers in the world yet he was buried in a pauper’s grave until money was raised to buy a headstone.

Jackie Wilson was one of the most important artists of black pop's transition from R&B into soul. In terms of vocal power (especially in the upper register), few could outdo him; he was also an electrifying on-stage showman.  He was a consistent hit maker from the mid-'50s through the early '70s, although never a crossover superstar.   His reputation isn't quite on par with Ray Charles, James Brown, or Sam Cooke, however, because his records did not always reflect his artistic genius.   Indeed, there is a consensus of sorts among critics that Wilson was something of an underachiever in the studio, due to the sometimes inappropriately pop-based material and arrangements that he used.

Wilson scored a posthumous hit when “Reet Petite” reached number one in the United Kingdom in 1986. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1987.

Jackie Wilson is buried in the Westlawn Cemetery in Wayne, Michigan.

Source: Richie Unterberger, All Music Guide

To view Jackie Wilson singing "Loneley Teardrops,' click the following link, Jackie Wilson performance



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