Jimmy Soul (August 24, 1942 – June 15, 1988) was an American vocalist. He is best remembered for his 1963 number one hit, "If You Wanna Be Happy."
Born James Louis McCleese in Weldon, North Carolina, he became a preacher at the age of seven and performed gospel music as a teenager. He acquired his performing name, "Soul," from his congregation.
He subsequently toured southern US states as a member of several gospel groups, including the famed Nightingales, wherein Soul was billed as ‘The Wonder Boy’, before discovering a forte for pop and R&B. He became a popular attraction around the Norfolk area of Virginia where he was introduced to songwriter/producer Frank Guida, who guided the career of Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds.
Guida presented the song ‘Twistin’ Matilda’ to Bonds, who declined to record it. Instead it was given to Jimmy, landing him a #22 hit. It was based on a calypso tune, as were many of Guida’s numbers. Jimmy was more interested in the potential of its flip, the soulful ‘I Can’t Hold Out Any Longer’, but the happy simplicity of ‘Twistin’ Matilda’ easily won the day A well-crafted follow-up, ‘When Matilda Comes Back’, failed to chart, as did Jimmy’s third single.
Then came ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’, based on the calypso song ‘Ugly Woman’, which went all the way to #1. It sold over one million gramophone records, earning gold disc status. It had two spells in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #39 (1963) and #68 (1991) respectively.
A swiftly released album maintained the infectious quality with ‘Hands Off’, the soulful ‘I Want To Know If You Love Me’ and ‘When I Get My Car’. Tunes such as ‘You’re Nothing’ showed that Jimmy had the talent to be successful in a range of styles. He followed the hit with the excellent ‘Treat ‘Em Tough’ which only bubbled under the Billboard Hot 100. Further flop singles failed to sustain his career and a spell in Vietnam during which he was wounded ended his moment in the sun.
Later in life, Soul fell into a drug habit, and on January 9, 1986 was sentenced to 4 and a half to 9 years in prison as a second felony offender, convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. The sentence was affirmed upon appeals on October 26, 1987 and March 22, 1988.
Soul died of a presumably drug related heart attack in new York on June 15, 1988, aged 45. (Info edited from Wikipedia & Ace Records)