Wilson was born in Michigan and grew up alternating between time in church choir and street gangs. After dropping out of high school, he boxed some before starting to sing professionally. After singing in groups such as the Dominoes, he embarked on a solo career in the late 1950s. By the time he played Robinson Auditorium, his song “Lonely Teardrops” had sold over one million copies and been number one on the R&B charts.
It was around this time that Wilson struck up a friendship with Elvis Presley. They were each impressed with the other’s musical ability and stage presence. Reportedly Elvis referred to himself as “the white Jackie Wilson.”
Throughout his career his hit songs included “Night,” “You Better Know It,” “Doggin’ Around,” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher.”
Wilson had a heart attack and collapsed on stage in New Jersey during a concert in September 1975. He slipped into a coma. After a brief recovery in 1976, he slipped back into a semi-comatose state. He remained in that condition until his death from pneumonia in 1984.