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Overview (4)

Born in Detroit, Michigan, USA
Died in New Jersey, USA  (pneumonia)
Birth NameJack Leroy Wilson
Nicknames Mr. Excitement
Mr. Entertainment
The Black Elvis-Jackie Wilson

Mini Bio (1)

Jackie "Sonny" Wilson was born in Detroit, Michigan, and grew up in Highland Park, the only son of Jack and Eliza Mae Wilson from Columbus, Mississippi. His father was an alcoholic and constantly unemployed, and his mother, who had lost two earlier children, doted on Jackie and became a powerful influence in his life. He began to sing at an early age, and even formed a quartet, The Ever Ready Gospel Singers Group, which earned a small measure of fame among the local churches.

Wilson was a habitual truant, getting in trouble on a regular basis. He began drinking at age nine, and in 1950 at age 16 dropped out of high school. He married Freda Hood, his childhood sweetheart, and a daughter arrived in March, 1951. At this time he was singing in local clubs with Levi Stubbs(later of The Four Tops fame). In 1953 he successfully auditioned for Billy Ward's Dominoes, replacing Clyde McPhatter when the latter left the group to form The Drifters. Their first release was "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down", followed by "Rags to Riches." In 1956 they had their first pop hit, "St. Therese Of The Roses."

In 1957 Wilson embarked on a solo career. His manager was Al Green, a music publisher and manager who was already managing Della Reese, Johnnie Ray and La Vern Baker. Green was able to secure Wilson a recording contract with Brunswick Records. However, Green suddenly died the day before the deal was officially signed. He was replaced by Nat Turnpool. Collaborating with Berry Gordy and Roquel "Billy" Davis, Wilson soon had a string of hits to his name, among them "To Be Loved," "Reet Petite" and "That Is Why," as well as his biggest hit, "Lonely Teardrops."

This partnership ended after disagreements between Tarnpool and the team of Davis/Gordy over inadequate payments. After parting ways, Gordy used his royalties to create Hitsville USA Studios, later to become Motown Records. The rest is music history. Davis joined Chess Records as A&R manager and would achieve success in his own right as a songwriter and producer. Tarnpool, confident that he could do without the Davis/Gordy team, had band leader Dick Jacobs produce most of Wilson's recordings from 1957 through 1966, resulting in frequent crossovers between R&B and pop. Wilson had moderate hits during this period, with songs such as "Night" and "Alone at Last". In 1961 he formed a songwriting partnership with Alonzo Tucker that yielded the hit "Baby Workout."

Although married to Freda Hood since 1951, Wilson was notorious for his numerous affairs with other women. Things came to a head in 1961 when Juanita Jones, an aspiring model, shot Wilson twice in the stomach after hearing about his affair with Harlean Harris, ex-girlfriend of singer Sam Cooke. Wilson was rushed to the hospital where quick surgery saved his life, although he lost a kidney. Since one of the bullets was too close to his spine, doctors ruled out surgery to remove it as far too dangerous. Wilson would have to carry it around for the rest of his life.

Besides women, Wilson had another dangerous weakness: he was incredibly naive and easily trusting, something that Tarnpool took advantage of. Wilson had signed over power-of-attorney to him despite strong rumors of Tarnpool's mob connections and his reputation as an unscrupulous businessman. In 1962 the IRS seized Wilson's family home due to his failure to pay back taxes (due mainly to the fact that Tarnpool had been pocketing all of Wilson's earnings). Wilson realized that, despite the success of his career, he was broke and homeless. Eventually he made arrangements with the IRS to make restitution on the unpaid taxes and was able to re-purchase his own house at an auction.

During this time the "British Invasion" took place, sending his career into freefall. His last hit was "Your Love (Keeps Lifting Me Higher And Higher)" in 1968. Two years later his 16-year-old son Jackie Jr. was shot and killed during a confrontation with a neighbor. Jackie's wife Frida had long since filed for divorce, having their marriage officially annulled in 1965. Despite these circumstances, Jackie treated her as though she was still his wife.

On September 29, 1975 Wilson suffered a major heart attack while on stage at Dick Clark's "Traveling Oldies Revue". As he fell he hit his head on some stage equipment, resulting in serious brain damage. He stayed in a coma until his death at 49 on January 21, 1984.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Kenya Gilbert

Spouse (2)

Harlean Harris (April 1967 - 21 January 1984) (his death) (2 children)
Freda Hood (February 1951 - 1965) (divorced) (4 children)

Trade Mark (5)

Dance moves which include knee-drops, splits, spins, backflips, one-footed across the floor slides and basic boxing steps (advance and retreat shuffling)
Gets some of the unattractive girls in the audience on stage to kiss him
Four octave vocal range
Charismatic and dynamic stage presence
Usually removes his tie and jacket and throwing them off the stage

Trivia (17)

Recorded "Danny Boy" three times, in 1952, 1958 and 1965. The later version made Billboard's R&B and pop charts.
Replaced Clyde McPhatter in Billy Ward's Dominoes in 1953, departed to go solo in 1956.
A notorious womanizer, he was shot in the stomach by a former lover, with the bullet lodging near his spine. Since doctors deemed an operation risky, he carried the bullet for the rest of his life.
Ironically, at the time of his death in 1984, his career was enjoying a brief renaissance, with the song "Reet Petit" reaching #3 on the UK charts and remaining in the top ten for 37 weeks.
He entrusted his whole earnings to his manager, a sleazy hustler rumored to have mob connections. As a result, during his career high in the 1950s and subsequent decline in the late 1960s and 1970s, he was constantly broke. To add insult to injury, he was buried in an unmarked grave after his death, a fact that went unnoticed until some devout fans had his body exhumed in 1990 and gave him a proper burial.
Suffered a major heart attack in 1975 in the middle of performing the song "Lonely Teardrops" for Dick Clark's "Traveling Oldies Revue". He fell forward, hitting his head on some equipment, and as a result, fell into a coma from which he never recovered.
Cited as a major influence for his dance moves by singers James Brown and Michael Jackson, who both have their own signature dance styles.
Posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Posthumously inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013.
He was voted the 68th Greatest Rock 'n' Roll Artist of All Time by Rolling Stone.
Following his death, he was interred at Westlawn Cemetery in Wayne County, Michigan.
Shortly before his heart-attack in 1975, he appeared in concert on U.S. Public Broadcasting's Soundstage (1974).
Headlined many of Alan Freed's Rock n Roll shows in the late 1950s.
Had breakout year in 1959 with five consecutive R n B and pop hits including his first million seller and signature standard "Lonely Teardrops".
Godfather of Jody Watley.
Cousin of Levi Stubbs and Hubert Johnson, one of the original members of The Contours.
In 1975, he had sustained brain damage from the heart attack he suffered while performing in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. After stabilizing him in a hospital, he was brought to a rehabilitation hospital, Morris Hall, in Lawrenceville, outside of Trenton, New Jersey. He remained there for several months until he was sent to a nursing home.

Personal Quotes (1)

A lot of people have accused [Elvis Presley] of stealing the black man's music, when in fact almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.

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