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They called him “Mr. Entertainment,” and indeed Jackie Wilson was a gifted singer of considerable range and an athletic showman who commanded a stage like few before or since. He was a natural tenor who sang with the graceful control of Sam Cooke and moved with the frenzied dynamism of James Brown. With all the flair and finesse at his disposal, Wilson routinely drove audiences to the brink of hysteria. A mainstay of the R&B and pop charts from 1958 to 1968, Wilson amassed two dozen Top Forty singles, all released on the Brunswick label. On record, he was often saddled with grandiose arrangements and dated material, but he transcended even the most bathetic settings with the tremulous excitement of his vocals.

The Detroit-born Wilson turned to R&B after stints as a gospel singer and amateur boxer. He joined Billy Ward and His Dominoes as lead singer in 1953, replacing Clyde McPhatter when the latter left to join the Drifters. Wilson remained with the Dominoes until 1957, singing on such high-charting numbers as "St. Therese of the Roses." Wilson launched his solo career in 1958 with the singles "Reet Petite" and “To Be Loved,” both written for him by a pre-Motown Berry Gordy, Jr., back when the latter was a struggling songwriter. Another Gordy composition, "Lonely Teardrops," reached #7 on the pop chart and went to #1 on the R&B side. Other chart-topping R&B hits followed: "You Better Know It," "Doggin' Around," "A Woman, a Lover, a Friend." Wilson’s biggest hit, the exquisitely soulful "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," came in 1967.

Through it all, Wilson tore it up onstage with an act that radiated excitement and sex appeal. His popularity extended overseas, where, in 1963 he headlined a British show that had the Beatles as one of his opening acts. Though the hits stopped coming as musical tastes shifted in the late Sixties, Wilson remained active on the performing front. He was, in fact, in the midst of a 1975 show in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when he suffered a stroke that plunged him into a coma. Wilson remained hospitalized for more than eight years until his death in 1984.

Biography by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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