Jackie Wilson is known to some as Mr. Excitement for his excellent showmanship and his ability to blend rhythm and blues with rock and roll. Having gotten his start with Billy Ward and His Dominoes, Wilson launched his solo career in the late 1950s and wound up with more than fifty singles by the time his career was over. He was noted for his ability to work a crowd during live performances (something that even Elvis Presley found awe-inspiring), and many believe that he was one of the key figures in setting the trend of combining tenets of rock and R&B, a trend that would persist for many years after Wilson got his start.
Dressed in flashy clothing and often sweating from the sheer energy of his performances, Wilson had a stage presence that was simultaneously calm and dynamic. He would hold his hands in a casual stance one moment, then the next moment he would be twisting around or doing the splits. He would often use his libido to gain attention from the audience, something for which Elvis would eventually become known as well.
Wilson used this stage presence to perform a number of hit songs such as “Doggin’ Around,” “Reet Petite,” “I’ll Be Satisfied,” “A Woman, a Lover, a Friend,” “Chain Gang” and “For Once in My Life.” He had an amazing four-part vocal range that made it easy to accommodate any song he might choose to perform, so it wasn’t too difficult for Wilson to churn out a hit whether he was standing in the recording studio or dancing for a crowd of awestruck women.
Unfortunately, Wilson’s success did not make his life any easier. He struggled with a number of issues, meeting adversity in the form of drugs, tax issues, and relationship issues. Women loved him, but sometimes they loved him a little too much. The most notable example was the woman who shot him, although the reasons are unclear. While some believe that she was a crazed fan whose suicide Wilson prevented by trying to get the gun away from her, others have said that she was actually an ex-girlfriend who became jealous over the other women who were keen on Wilson. This shooting resulted in the loss of a kidney. Over a dozen years later, an accident on stage led to Wilson falling into an eight-year coma before ultimately passing away.
Despite his incredibly tragic life, Wilson always had a smile on his face when he took to the stage. In 1987, three years after his death, he was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his amazing talents as well as his contribution to the world of music. In the end, the adversity Wilson suffered was merely further testament to his abilities as a showman, for only the greatest of entertainers could lead a life of tragedy such as his while maintaining such an indisputably jovial stage presence. Wilson was truly one of the greats of mid-twentieth century American music.
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