Jackie's first singing group called the Falcons, included cousin Levi Stubbs, who later went on to lead the Four Tops. Two other cousins, Hubert Johnson and Levi's brother Joe, later became members of The Contours ("Do You Love Me?")
Jack Leroy "Jackie" Wilson, Jr. - known as "Mr. Excitement" - was a key figure in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul music. He was known as a master showman, and as one of the most dynamic singers and performers in R&B and rock history.
In the beginning of his career, Jackie drew attention as a member of the R&B vocal group Billy Ward and His Dominoes, he went solo in 1957 and recorded over 50 hit singles that spanned R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop and easy listening.
During a 1975 benefit concert, he collapsed on-stage from a heart attack and subsequently fell into a coma that lasted for nearly nine years until his death in 1984. By this time, he had become one of the most influential artists of his generation.
A two-time Grammy Hall of Fame Inductee,Jackie Wilson was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Jackie Wilson #68 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
In his early teens Jackie formed a quartet, the Ever Ready Gospel Singers, which became a popular feature of churches in the area. Jackie wasn't very religious, he just loved to sing and the cash he and his group earned came in handy for the cheap wine which he drank since the age of nine.
Wilson dropped out of high school at age 15, having already been sentenced to detention in the Lansing Corrections system for juveniles twice. During his second stint in detention, he learned boxing and started performing in the amateur circuit in the Detroit area at the age of 16. After his mother begged his to quit boxing, Wilson married Freda Hood and became a father at 17.
He eventually gave up boxing for music, first working at Lee's Sensation club as a solo singer, then forming a group called the Falcons with his cousin Levi Stubbs, who later went on to lead the Four Tops.
Jackie was soon discovered by talent agent Johnny Otis, who assigned him to join a group called the Thrillers. That group would later be known as The Royals (who would later evolve into R&B group, The Midnighters.
After recording two versions of "Danny Boy" with Dizzy Gillespie's record label Dee Gee Records under the name Sonny Wilson, Wilson was recruited by Billy Ward in 1953 to join a group Ward formed in 1950 called The Dominoes. Jackine replaced Clyde McPhatter, who had left and formed his own group, The Drifters. Ward felt a stage name would fit The Dominoes' image, and from then on he was known as Jackie Wilson.
Wilson was the group's lead singer for three years, but the Dominoes lost some of their popularity after McPhatter left the group. They were able to make appearances riding on the strength of the group's earlier hits, until 1956 when the Dominoes recorded Wilson with an unlikely interpretation of the pop hit, "St. Therese of the Roses."
Prior to leaving The Dominoes, Wilson was coached by McPhatter on the sound Billy Ward wanted for his group, influencing Wilson's singing style. "I learned a lot from Clyde, that high-pitched choke he used and other things...Clyde McPhatter was my man. Clyde and Billy Ward."
After leaving the Dominoes, he and cousin Levi worked at Detroit's Flame Show Bar, owned by Al Green. Green worked out a deal with Decca Records, and Wilson was signed to their subsidiary label, Brunswick.
Wilson's first single, "Reet Petite" from the album He's So Fine, became a modest R&B success (and many years later, a huge international smash). The song was co-written by another former boxer, Berry Gordy, Jr. - who went on to establish Motown Records.
Gordy and his team composed and produced nine hit singles for Wilson, including "To Be Loved," "(That's Why) I Love You So," "I'll Be Satisfied" and his late-1958 signature song, "Lonely Teardrops," which peaked at No. 7 on the pop charts, No. 1 on the R&B charts, and established him as an R&B superstar known for his extraordinary multi-octave vocal range.
Elvis Presley was so impressed by Wilson that he made it a point to meet Mr. Excitement, and the two instantly became good friends. Presley once dubbed Jackie "The Black Elvis." Wilson also admitted he was influenced by Presley too. “A lot of people have accused Elvis of stealing the black man’s music, when in fact, almost every black solo entertainer copied his stage mannerisms from Elvis.”
In the 1960s, Wilson scored hits with "Doggin' Around," the No. 1 pop ballad "Night," and "Baby Workout," another Top 10 hit (No. 5), which he composed with Midnighters member Alonzo Tucker. His songwriting alliance with Tucker also turned out other songs, including "No Pity (In The Naked City)" and "I'm So Lonely." Top 10 hits continued with "Alone At Last" (No. 8 in 1960) and "My Empty Arms" (No. 9 in 1961).
Also in 1961, Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson, Nowstalgia...You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet, which included the only album liner notes he ever wrote: ."..to the greatest entertainer of this or any other era..."
Following the success of "Baby Workout," Wilson experienced a lull in his career between 1964 and 1966 as Tarnopol and Brunswick Records released a succession of unsuccessful albums and singles. Despite the lack of sales success, he still made artistic gains as he recorded an album with Count Basie, as well as a series of duets with rhythm and blues legend Lavern Baker and gospel singer Linda Hopkins.
In 1966, he scored the first of two big comeback singles with established Chicago soul producer Carl Davis with "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," a No. 6 Pop smash in 1967, which became one of his final pop hits. This was followed by "I Get the Sweetest Feeling," which, despite its modest initial chart success in the US has since become one of his biggest international chart successes, becoming a Top 10 hit in the UK twice, in 1972 and in 1987, and a Top 20 hit in the Dutch Top 40, and has spawned numerous cover versions.
By 1975, Wilson and The Chi-Lites were Brunswick's only significant artists left on the aging label's roster. Until then, Wilson continued to record singles that found success on the R&B chart, but found no significant pop chart success. His final hit, "You Got Me Walkin', " written by Eugene Record of the Chi-Lites, was released in 1972 with the Chi-Lites backing him on vocals and instruments.
On September 29, 1975, Wilson suffered a massive heart attack while appearing in Dick Clark's Good Ol' Rock 'N Roll Revue at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Wilson collapsed on stage while singing a line from his hit "Lonely Teardrops" ("My heart is crying..."). He was revived after medical personnel worked nearly 30 minutes to stabilize his vitals, but the lack of oxygen to his brain left him comatose.
Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
In 1999, Wilson's original version of "Higher and Higher" and "Lonely Teardrops" were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame,and both are on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
In 2005, Jackie Wilson was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. His recording of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2008.