A boxing champion in the 1940s, Jackie Wilson swapped pugilism for Pop
, issuing 'Danny Boy' under his fighting name Sonnay Wilson and replacing lead singer Clyde McPhatter in Billy Ward And His Dominoes in 1951. With a style of vocals to match his onstage athletics, he shone on Dominoes
hits like 'Rags To Riches' (1953) and 'St. Therese Of The Roses' (1956).
After leaving the Dominoes in 1956, he hired cousin Billy Davis (alias Tyrone Carlo) and Berry Gordy as writers. Their song 'Reet Petite' (1957) was a classic: Wilson's voice soared above Gordy's Big Band brass, crashing the UK chart. In 1957, he had a US smash with 'Lonely Teardrops', the first of a chart run which included 1959's 'That's Why (I Love You So)' and 'I'll Be Satisfied', and 1960's 'Doggin' Around', '(You Were Made For) All My Love', 'A Woman, A Lover, A Friend' and 'Night'. The latter hit- a revamp of Saint-Saens' 'My Heart At Thy Sweet Voice'- was a Pop/Classical mix which inspired Elvis' 'It's Now Or Never' (1960) and continued with 'Alone At Last' (1960) and 'My Empty Arms' (1961).
After he split from Gordy, Wilson coasted through the mid-60s, save for 1963's funky 'Baby Workout'. With his producer Carl Davis, he stormed back with 1966's 'Whispers (Gettin' Louder)', and 1967's '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher'.
However, this renaissance was brief: by the mid-70s Wilson was playing the club circuit. He had a heart attack on stage at the Latin Casino, New Jersey- reportedly having just sung the line 'My heart is crying' from 'Lonely Teardrops'- and spent his final years in hospital care. A spate of UK Wilson mania in the 80s sent 'Reet Petite' to No.1 in 1986, followed by gits in 1987 (the year he was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame) with '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher' and the superb 'I Get The Sweetest Feeling', his final US hit from 1968. In an unrelated tribute in 1982, Dexy's Midnight Runners had a hit with 'Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaen When You Smile)', written by Van Morrison.