Jackie Wilson

June 9, 1934 – January 21, 1984

A common thread for musicians who grew up on the streets of 1950s Detroit was that you had two choices as a young person: join a gang or join a singing group. Jack Leroy Wilson, Jr. – known as “Sonny” or “Jackie” – opted for both. He served time in juvenile detention a couple of times, learned to box and took up drinking alcohol as a teenager. All the while he found that, despite the fact that he wasn’t particularly religious, he enjoyed singing with other kids in church. Jackie was able to find work singing in clubs around Detroit and eventually landed a record deal with Brunswick records where he became one of the great pioneers of the burgeoning Rhythm & Blues wave that was about to sweep the nation.

Wilson scored his first hit with 1958’s “Lonely Teardrops” and followed it with a string of modest hits. But, it was the stage presence that drew the most attention. His acrobatic and animated dance moves coupled with high-energy performances (aided by allegedly taking salt pills before shows to ensure massive amounts of sweat) all melded together with his tremendous voice. Crowds could not get enough and he garnered the nickname “Mr. Excitement.” 

Off-stage, Jackie’s life was complicated. He had his share of personal issues and suffered from a short temper that often got him into trouble. In 1961, he was shot in the stomach by a jealous ex-girlfriend. His life was plagued by legal and financial issues. He was married several times and had many children. 

Wilson’s career peaked again in 1967 with the massive hit “(Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me) Higher and Higher”. He continued to thrill audiences and inspire other performers. His stage persona directly influenced artists like James Brown, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley. He maintained a close, lifelong friendship with Presley, the two often laughing about being compared to each other.

At a concert in 1975, Jackie Wilson collapsed while singing “Lonely Teardrops.” He suffered a heart attack that left him in a semi-comatose state and in need of full-time care for the remainder of his life. He died in 1984 at the age of 49.


Westlawn Cemetery – Wayne, MI

Specific Location

Take the first left just past the office, then in a few hundred feet, Jackie’s crypt and a memorial bench will be visible on your left. Both of these monuments were added by fans years after Wilson’s orginal, non-descript burial.


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