A stalwart in the music genre of soul and R&B, Jack Leroy Wilson, more popularly known as Jackie Wilson, was an influential performer who made waves with his unique singing voice and thrilling dance moves. More than that, his sheer talent combined with unmatched charisma won the audience’s hearts around the world.
The soul singer’s hits were unmatched but probably one of the most notable milestones of his life was the day his song “(I Can Feel Those Vibrations) This Love Is Real” stepped into the Billboard R&B chart on December 12, 1970. The head-popping tune was his 42nd hit to enter the chart in 12 years of his solo career, and his 16th and last single to be in the top 10.
The single was produced by Carl Davis, one of the most distinguished musical producers, with backing by Motown’s favorite, the Funk Brothers which composed of Benny Benjamin, James Jamerson, and Earl Van Dyke. Written by Jack Daniels and Daniel Moore, this first single from the album with the same title became a soulful upbeat masterpiece with musical engineering by Bruce Sweiden.
The song debuted on the R&B chart at number 43 and peaked at number 9, while it entered the Hot 100 at number 56.
From Gospel to R&B
Before being a celebrated master showman, Wilson first displayed his interest in singing at a young age by joining a church choir with his mother. He joined a gospel quartet named Ever Ready Gospel Singers during his teens.
At the age of 15, he dropped out from high school and got detained in the juvenile system of Lansing Corrections twice. While serving his second sentence, he learned boxing and at 16, started joining amateur boxing matches in Detroit. During his short boxing stint, he won the American Amateur Golden Gloves Welterweight boxing title.
After being forced to quit boxing by his mother, he started singing again at Lee’s Sensation Club, where he got his big break after being discovered by talent agent Johnny Otis. He then became a part of an African-American R&B vocal group called Dominoes, which was formed by Billy Ward.
Dominoes was a huge success, becoming one of the most sought-after R&B groups in the ’50s. Their first number one hit, “Sixty Minute Man,” which was released in 1951, was touted as one of the most influential songs that built the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.
In 1957, Wilson left the group and started his solo career with his first single, “Reet Petite”, although this did not become a huge hit, his first top tenner came with “To Be Loved” that peaked at number 7 in the R&B charts. His song “Lonely Teardrops” in 1958, reached number 7 in the pop charts and hit the number one spot in US R&B, the first for his solo career. This song was a certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
His next number one hit was “You Better Know It” a year after – the song which was used in the rock-and-roll movie “Go Johnny Go” in which he co-starred with Alan Freed, both playing as themselves. Wilson’s career continued to soar in the ’60s with number 1 hits including “A Woman, A Lover, A Friend” and “Doggin’ Around” in 1960; “Baby Workout” in 1963; and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” in 1967.
After his death in Jan. 21, 1984, his first solo single was re-released in UK in 1986 and reached the top rank in the British charts. The Detroit-born singer died due to pneumonia at only 49.
With the intensity and fieriness of his performance, Wilson was greatly remembered as Mr. Excitement. His magnificent command and appeal on stage became a massive inspiration among many performers, including James Brown, Michael Jackson, and even Elvis Presley. Some even referred to Wilson as the “Black Elvis,” in which the King reacted by saying that if that were the case, then he should be called the “White Jackie Wilson.”
Jackson even dedicated his Grammy’s Album of the Year award for “Thriller” to Wilson in 1984. In 2005, Wilson was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.