Jack Leroy "Jackie" Wilson, Jr. was a pivotal figure in the transition of Rhythm & Blues into Soul Music in the 1950s. A master showman with a multi-octave range, Wilson raised goosebumps with sudden spikes to an upper register. He had impeccable sartorial class and dazzled audiences with spectacular dance moves. These explosive qualities earned him the sobriquet "Mr. Excitement."
Wilson (b. Detroit, 1934) first gained fame as a member of the R&B vocal group The Dominoes (replacing the legendary Clyde McPhatter in 1953). In 1957 Wilson went solo, becoming a stylistic polymath who genre-surfed R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop, big band, rock—even easy listening. Jackie and Elvis professed a mutual admiration. As a late 1950s superstar, he helped pave the way for the Motown and Memphis soul vogue of the 1960s. In fact, a number of his 1950s hits—including the 1958 smash "Lonely Teardrops"—were co-written by an emerging songsmith and later Motown mogul named Berry Gordy.
In 1961, ever confounding critics and fans, Wilson recorded a tribute album to a singer he considered "the greatest entertainer of this or any other era. I have just about every recording he's ever made. This is my humble tribute to the one man I admire most in this business." That man was 1920s vaudeville legend Al Jolson—and the album flopped. Yet some of his best work lay ahead: 1963's cardiac-pumper "Baby Workout" and 1967's "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher." He also recorded albums with the Count Basie Orchestra and R&B queen Lavern Baker.
Wilson, a convert to Judaism, faced recurring tragedy: in 1961 he was shot by a jealous girlfriend; his son Jackie, Jr. was gunned down at age 16; and two of his daughters died young, one during a drug-related incident. During a 1975 Dick Clark oldies concert in NJ, Wilson collapsed onstage from a heart attack and lapsed into a coma. He remained in a vegetative state for almost nine years, dying in 1984 at age 49. Wilson wasn't the king of soul, and his stylistic shapeshifting probably deprived him of a larger legacy. But no one underestimated the man's passion or sold short his unforgettable vocal pyrotechnics.
— Irwin Chusid