Jack Leroy "Jackie" Wilson Jr. (June 9, 1934 – January 21, 1984) was an American soul singer and performer. A tenor with a four-octave vocal range, he was nicknamed "Mr. Excitement", and was important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul. He was considered a master showman, and one of the most dynamic and influential singers and performers in R&B and rock 'n' roll history
Jackie Wilson was born Jack Leroy Wilson in Detroit, Michigan, the only child of Jack and Eliza Wilson from Columbus, Mississippi. He grew up in Highland Park, Michigan. He started singing at the age of 6. At 12 he joined the "Ever Ready Gospel Singers". They became very popular in Detroit's black churches. Truancy during high school landed him in the Lansing Correctional Institute.
While at Lansing he took up boxing. His Mother Eliza, not a boxing fan, made him pursue a much more promising career, Singing! In 1953, Wilson made music his career, joining Billy Ward and his Dominoes as the group's lead singer; he was brought in to replace Clyde McPhatter and sang with them for three years. The biggest hit Jackie had with the Dominos was "St Therese of the Roses", reaching number 13 on the charts in 1956.
Wilson launched his solo career in 1958 with Brunswick Records and soon had a minor hit with "Reet Petite," co-written with Berry Gordy, Jr and Roquel "Billy" Davis. Gordy/Davis also co-wrote Wilson's major pop and R&B smash hits "To Be Loved," "That's Why," and "I'll Be Satisfied," and his top R&B and pop hit classic "Lonely Teardrops." Wilson appeared in the film Go, Johnny, Go singing "You Better Know It." Deciding that Wilson should not limit himself to singing rock and roll, Nate Tarnopol (Jackie's manager) had veteran band leader and Decca arranger Dick Jacobs produce most of Jackie's recordings from 1957 through 1966. Jacobs knew Jackie could sing and revelled in all styles, so he combined him with huge orchestral accompaniments.
Performing engagements at major Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York nightclubs and recording a variety of material, including bland pop material and classical adaptations such as "Night," "Alone at Last," and "My Empty Arms," Wilson suffered through intrusive arrangements and critical neglect in the early '60s. Nonetheless, he scored four two sided crossover hits in 1960-1961 with "Night"/"Doggin' Around," "All My Love"/"A Woman, a Lover, a Friend," "Alone at Last"/ "Am I the Man," and "My Empty Arms"/"The Tear of the Year." "Night" was a pop smash, while "Alone at Last" and "My Empty Arms," were near pop smashes. "Doggin' Around" and "A Woman, a Lover, a Friend" were top R&B hits.
By 1961 Jackie was involved with Harlean Harris, a former girlfriend of Sam Cooke and an Ebony magazine fashion model while at the same time having a relationship with a Juanita Jones. February 15, 1961, Jones shot Wilson twice as he returned with Harris to his Manhattan apartment. Despite his wounds, Wilson made it downstairs where he was taken to the Roosevelt Hospital. Life saving surgery was performed followed by weeks of medical care. Wilson lost a kidney and would carry the bullet that was too close to his spine to be removed, around for the rest of his life.
A month and a half later Jackie was discharged and, apart from a limp and discomfort for a while, he was quickly on the mend. He discovered that despite being at the peak of success, he was broke. Around this time the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized Jackie's Detroit family home. Tarnopol and his accountant were supposed to take care of such matters. At the time Jackie had declared annual earnings of $263,000, while the average salary a man earned then was just $5,000 a year. Yet the fact was he was nearly broke. Fortunately Jackie made arrangements with the IRS to make restitution on the unpaid taxes and to re-purchase the family home at auction.
However, his wife's patience had finally run out due to Jackie's notorious philandering and she filed for divorce. Jackie didn't contest it and so their thirteen year marriage was annulled in 1965. Freda was granted the house, $10,000 and a modest $50-per-week for each of their four children. For the rest of her life Freda regretted seeking the divorce and, moreover, Jackie still treated her as though she was still his wife.
Although he continued to have hits over the following years, Wilson didn't have another major pop and smash R&B hit until he began recording in Chicago with producer Carl Davis. Under Davis, Wilson staged a dramatic comeback with "Whispers (Getting Louder)," and the classic "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," a top R&B and smash pop hit, and "I Get the Sweetest Feeling." Wilson recorded with Count Basie in 1968 and managed his last near smash R&B and moderate pop hit with "This Love is Real" in the late '70s. He was subsequently relegated to the oldies revival circuit, despite having continued R&B hits.
On the night of September 29, 1975 While playing Dick Clark's oldies show at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Wilson was stricken with a massive heart attack. One of the first to reach Jackie was Cornell Gunter of the Coasters group who immediately noticed he wasn't breathing. Gunter applied resuscitation and got him breathing again. An ambulance quickly got him to the nearby hospital where he remained in a coma for over three months.
Jackie gradually improved to the stage of semi-coma state, but obviously he had suffered severe brain damage and, at 41, a tremendous career was ended. Although he never uttered another word, he remained clinging to life for a further eight and a quarter years. He remained hospitalized until his death on January 21, 1984, at the age of forty-nine.
Jackie Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
(Info edited from various sources, mainly history-of-rock.com)