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Entertainment Profile: Jackie Wilson

by Kenney Dennard

Definitely a pioneer in black music and entertainment and one of the most underrated black entertainers ever, Jackie Wilson, known as Mr. Excitement influenced many major players in the industry for years.  His fancy dance moves inspired Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and many, many others.

He was born Jack LeRoy Wilson Jr. in June 1934 in Detroit, MI. By age six, he was singing, and even before reaching adolescence, he found that he could fit in with local gospel and blues musicians in the streets and storefront churches in Detroit.  By age 12, he joined a group called the Ever Ready Gospel Singers.

As a child, Jackie would got into lots of mischief though and ended up being sent to Lansing Correctional Institute.  Just as many young black Michigan kids such as a young Malcolm Little, (Later known as Malcolm X) and Berry Gordy Jr, who had admired Joe Louis, an Alabama born Detroit raised black man that had become the Heavyweight Champion of the world from 1937-1949, Jackie Wilson decided to get into boxing.  He fought in Golden Glove matches in Detroit.  His record was 2 and 8; therefore, his mother pleaded for him to quit.  He did eventually and focused more on music.

After drifting from group to group, Wilson was discovered as a solo artist and signed to Decca Records' subsidiary label, Brunswick.  He met up and coming label head Berry Gordy Jr, who was writing songs at the time.  In fact, Wilson's first hit came from a Gordy team of writers in a song called "Reet Petite." Gordy and his writing team eventually wrote a string of hits for Wilson including "To Be Loved," "I'll Be Satisfied," and "Lonely Teardrops," which peaked at number 7 on the pop charts and number 1 on the R&B charts, thereby establishing him as an R&B superstar.

Jackie had some of the most dynamic dance moves ever seen at the time.  He could do a back flip and land in a split among many other exciting moves including knee drops, spins and one foot slides across the floor.  Thus, he was soon christened, "Mr. Excitement."  Elvis Presley was so impressed that he made a point to meet him and the two instantly became friends.

In 1958, Gordy left Wilson because of royalty disputes with his management.  In Berry Gordy's autobiography, which is titled after the song he wrote for Jackie, "To Be Loved,"  Gordy later wrote that after receiving his tiny royalty check, he stared at it with his good friend Smokey Robinson who said if that's all you get for writing you might as well just try to start your own label.  Shortly after, Motown Records was born in Detroit.

As the 60's rolled around, Wilson continued to roll out hits such as, "Doggin Around," "Night," and "Baby Workout." Wilson later hit a drought in the mid sixties but then came back with the smash hit, "(Your Love Keeps lifting Me) Higher and Higher." It was his last pop hit.

By the 1970's, Jackie no longer had hits but remained a concert draw.  He toured with the Dick Clark Revue and performed other oldies-oriented venues.  Headlining the Dick Clark show in Cherry Hill , New Jersey, on September 25, 1975, Wilson was stricken by a massive heart attack.  He hit his head while falling, and the resultant brain damage left him in a coma from which he never awakened.  According to, prior to his own death in 1977, Elvis Presley helped pay Wilson's medical bills.  Wilson died in Mount Holly, New Jersey, on January 19, 1984. In 1987, he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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jackie wilson

Jackie Wilson