The Continuing Legacy of Mr. Excitement

Responding to fans of this show about the first song played after Joe Biden’s acceptance speech, one that somehow makes all the crazy in 2020 a little more bearable. #jackiewilson #RandB #rockandroll #oldiesbutgoodies #oldies #joebiden #kamalaharris

I love getting messages from people asking me if I happen to know who did this song or that song from some visual media they have seen. More than 75 percent of the correspondence to me is concerning this topic. Of course I love connecting people to sounds they are interested in that they have never heard. I mean, that is the whole point of this program, correct? Trust me, it, certainly isn’t money…

Following the acceptance speech of Joe Biden to the U.S. presidency last November, which more than half the country watched according to Nielsen ratings, came a flood of questions. For the record, the first song they played was “Higher and Higher” by Jackie Wilson.

Jackie Wilson, circa early 1960’s. Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

Fans of this show know how much I love this artist, as did my mother. I featured one of his tracks on my tribute program to her last year that broadcast in December 2019. Interestingly, the last time I believe had received this many requests for a single song was also last year, after the song “I’ll Be Satisfied”, also by Jackie Wilson, played at the end of an episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel, which features a character partially based upon him.

Originally hailing from Detroit, MI, Wilson’s career didn’t start out as an entertainer, but as a professional boxer. As the legend goes, after his mother went to one of his matches and saw him get knocked out, she forbade him to ever get in the ring again.

Cover of Higher and Higher, 1967. Courtesy of Brunswick Records.

His formative years in the business read like a who’s who of early R&B and Rock and Roll: he was discovered by the most important bandleader in early 1950’s Black music, Johnny Otis. He was mentored by Billy Ward of The Dominoes to replace Clyde McPhatter in that group, as the latter went on to form The Drifters. Wilson went solo in 1957 with songs written by Berry Gordy, the man who founded Motown, and Billy Davis, who would become a successful producer at Chess in Chicago. He could count Elvis Presley as one of his biggest fans and friends, and Elvis used his celebrity to support the career of Wilson. He was also a frequent guest on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand shortly after it became syndicated nationally, and was one of the first Black performers on that program. And that’s just the short list.

The press dubbed him “Mr. Excitement”, and for those of you who have seen him live or in clips online, you know this was no exaggeration.

After a string of huge hits on the pop and R&B charts, his career waned briefly in the mid-1960’s, only to be resurrected again in ’66 and ’67 with two of his best-loved songs, “Whispers (Gettin’ Louder)” and the aforementioned “Higher”, the latter of which has been used in numerous films, television programs and commercials. Wilson would continue to chart tracks until the early 1970’s.

Jackie Wilson, circa late 1950’s, in Detroit. Photo courtesy of the Michael Ochs Archives.

Sadly, during a live performance of “Lonely Teardrops” in 1975 on a Dick Clark package tour, he suffered a major heart attack and stroke; people thought his collapse on stage was part of the act, and didn’t initially realize what had happened. He never performed again, and for the remainder of his life, was unable to speak. He was in and out of skilled nursing facilities until very early 1984, with financial support from many of his old friends, and had many expenses paid quietly by Clark. Wilson died of pneumonia at the age of just 49 on January 21st of that year.

One of the earliest and most memorable tributes came from none other than Michael Jackson, who’s own career was heavily influenced by Wilson, as Jackson thanked Wilson for his gifts as he accepted the Grammy Album of the Year award for Thriller. Additionally, Rolling Stone magazine ran a page-long tribute to him, and the last major hit for the Commodores, “Night Shift”, was about him and another tragic death in the same year, that of Marvin Gaye.

Cover of He’s So Fine, the debut album by Jackie Wilson. Courtesy of Brunswick Records.

Interestingly, his legend grew immensely in Europe, where re-issues of his classic tracks regularly topped the charts in many countries there, particularly in England; his 1957 debut solo single, “Reet Petite”, was the highly competitive Christmas #1 song in 1986 and spent 4 weeks in the pole position. That’s 29 years after its initial release for those doing the math.

The Biden/Harris team could have chosen any number of songs to play after the victory speech. However, in choosing the one they did, they are hopefully setting the tone for what we all hope is a much more welcome 2021.

First Part

  • Baby Workout, 1963, Baby Workout
  • A Woman, A Lover, A Friend, 1960, A Woman, A Lover, A Friend
  • Reet Petite (The Finest Girl You’d Ever Want To Meet), 1957, He’s So Fine
  • To Be Loved, 1957, He’s So Fine
  • Lonely Teardrops, 1958, Lonely Teardrops
  • Whispers (Gettin’ Louder), 1966, Whispers
  • Doggin’ Around, 1960, A Woman, A Lover, A Friend
  • Night, 1960, Jackie Sings the Blues


  • (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, 1967, Higher and Higher

Love to you all.

Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr. 
Host, Show Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Video Promo Producer and Writer

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