Category Archives: Jackie in performance

Jackie at the Apollo (Two)

jw stage profileThanks again to Doug Henderson Jr for giving me permission to share a second passage from his book, Endeavor to Persevere, with the readers of this blog. As I noted in Jackie at the Apollo, one of the first entries in this blog, Doug has been a lifelong admirer of Jackie Wilson. In this anecdote, as with the earlier one, Doug’s sister Effie has taken him to the Apollo to see Jackie. At the time, Doug was a few months shy of his tenth birthday.

In November of 1967, I went to see Jackie at the Apollo with Effie. I was in the cadets (a young person’s version of the military) and proudly wore my Marine uniform that day. In the middle of his show, Jackie sat on a stool at the edge of the stage, talking to the audience between songs and signing autographs, while introducing “Danny Boy.” As he dedicated the song to the troops fighting in Vietnam, I asked my sister for a piece of paper so that I could get his autograph. After rummaging through her pocketbook, all she could find was the back of one of her blank checks. She promptly tore it off from her checkbook. I anxiously took it and made a beeline to the stage. As I approached, I caught Jackie’s eye. Staring straight at me, he proclaimed to the Apollo audience, “Here comes the soldier boy.” I handed him the piece of paper and, as he was about to sign it, he hesitated. Turning it over and seeing that it was a check, he laughed, and with his sweat dripping down on the back of the check, autographed it. It is now framed, and proudly hanging on my living room wall—sweat drops and all.

Doug’s thoughtful and thought-provoking book, which explores the question of how excellence is achieved, is available as an e-book from Amazon. The full title is Endeavor to Persevere: A Memoir on Jimmy Connors, Arthur Ashe, Tennis and Life.

The Louisiana Weekly, July 1960

Front page July 23 1960

Here is the account from The Louisiana Weekly on July 23, 1960, published the week after the infamous New Orleans “riot” at the Jackie Wilson show . . .a show at which Jackie was never able to perform. I have transcribed the text from the front and back pages of the paper several paragraphs below.

Reading this edition of the newspaper, which was intended for the Black community in New Orleans half a century ago, I was once again stunned to recall the conditions in which Jackie Wilson and all Black Americans lived and worked. The stories and advertisements capture the environment. They include:

  • A front-page story about a white  employer who shot five of his Black workers who had come to discuss their distress at his striking one of them. The employer’s children watched as he shotgunned the workers, killing three at the scene and wounding the other two critically.
  • A half dozen large advertisements urging readers to vote for various men for judge or other elected offices. The men are all white.
  • A story of a meeting of Black citizens gathering to discuss community concerns that ended with forty-five of the attendees being arrested for attempted murder. (The charges were dropped when a demand was made to address the police brutality at the scene.)
  • There is a plea to boycott Budweiser beer after a local distributor barred Blacks from participation in a drawing for prizes. The prizes were hotel and restaurant services at locations that did not serve African Americans.
  • Note that the small space near the end of the article (pictured below) is filled with a reminder to register and vote.

That front-page article next to the one on the concert actually details a situation repeated across the country. Women on welfare could not receive public assistance money to feed their children if a man lived in the same household, because it was expected that he should support the children. However, if there was no man in the household and the woman gave birth to another child, she was considered morally reprehensible and therefore unworthy of the taxpayers’ help.

The article on the concert itself is amazing, particularly the arrests for “reviling the  police” and “being boisterous.” Here is my transcription of the text:

In the aftermath of the near riot at Sunday night’s jazz concert at the Municipal Auditorium, charges of disturbing the peace against “rock and roll” idol Jackie Wilson were dismissed here Monday and $10 fines were lodged against three other persons in Judge Edwin B. Babylon’s municipal court.

The New York singer had been charged in second municipal court with two counts of disturbing the peace and assault on a police officer.

The charges followed a near riot at the auditorium that was provoked by a misunderstanding which resulted in a “free for all” fight that broke out. Several bottles and one brick were tossed at the police. Seven persons were arrested in all.

The commotion started when Larry Williams to sing from a sitting position on the edge of the stage and put on his act on the auditorium floor. Ptn. [Patrolman?] John Raphael, one of 12 officers detailed to the concert, reported that another officer, Ptn. Perry White, went to Williams and told him not to come down to the floor as is was against the policy of the auditorium. A white officer allegedly pushed Williams while talking to Ptn. White.

It was at this point that Wilson jumped down off the stage and pushed the policeman. Five members of the band, playing on the stage began leaping from the stage and hurling objects at the police. Raphael was pasted across the hear with a big sound amplifier.

“Everything then broke loose” Raphael said. Several bottles of whiskey then began to fly. Patrons, which numbered at 3,000  began scrambling toward the exits. Auditorium officials then got the fire hoses ready to break up what looked was the beginning of a riot. Ten (10) patrol wagons came blasting their sirens to the scene.

The show was nearing the end and everyone was waiting for Jackie Wilson to appear at the end of the show, but this was the end of “jumping” show.

LW end of article on riotIn addition to Wilson who was booked with disturbing the peace, inciting a riot and assault on an arresting officer, others arrested were:

Calvin A. Watkins, 19, 536 Webster, for attempted murder and allegedly throwing a brick at an officer; Lionel Pichon, 21, 4508 Allen, obscene langauge [sic] and being boisterous; Thelma Roberts, 17, 2524 Desire St.; and Lloyd Burton, 19, 1124 So. Galvez, both booked relative to reviling police [,] and William Frazier and Johnny Jones, 28, no local address, both booked relative to refusing to move on. They were released on bond and three were later meted out small fines.

Wilson was parolled [sic] at 2:40 Monday by Judge Thomas Brahney “for attorney F. Klein.” Judge Edwin A. Babylon said he had no choice other than to dismiss the charge when Wilson failed to appear and since there was no place to look for him.

A flood of phone calls to the Louisiana Weekly on Monday, all voiced the opinion that it was a white police officer that provoked the misunderstanding that wound up in a near riot. These “eyewitnesses” said Larry Williams was pushed by the white officer and this led to bedlam.

In court Monday, Pichon who hollered about his civil rights was given a lecture on observing the civil rights of others.

The line “William Frazier and Johnny Jones, 28, no local address, both booked relative to refusing to move on” refers to Jackie’s valet, Bill Frazier, and JJ, Jackie’s boyhood friend who was at the time part of Jackie’s traveling entourage.

Little Rock Revisited (Three)

For several months I pondered what Eric Lenaburg had to tell me. Bits and pieces had to be wrong. He told me that Jesse Belvin had received death threats for the week before the concert. Belvin wasn’t in Little Rock for the week before the concert, so how did he receive these threats? In those days, entertainers on the road communicated by telephone or Western Union telegrams. To reach them, you had to know exactly where to find them.

Lenaburg also told me some story about Bill Clinton being close enough to the crash site to hear the noise. He claimed to have contacted Clinton’s office. I happened to have a friend whose college roommate grew up in Hope, Arkansas, with Clinton. She said that Bill’s family moved out of Hope that year.

And there was the billing Lenaburg insisted on, with Jackie, “Mr. Excitement,” going on before Jesse, “Mr. Easy.” Over time it seemed less and less likely to me. After all, if you only wanted a tamed-down Jackie Wilson on the bill, why not just get another entertainer, someone who would keep people quietly in their seats?

The little things became one big question mark about Lenaburg’s “investigations.”

First steps are important. After a while, Jesse Belvin Jr and I decided to see what we could find as a team, and my early research brought me to a quick conclusion that nothing Lenaburg said could be trusted.

I asked myself what the first step should be for anyone looking into these events, and then I took that first step: through Inter-Library Loan, I ordered microfilm of the local newspapers for the pertinent dates. Although Lenaburg insisted that he had made many trips to Little Rock over the years, he apparently did not bother to check the newspapers—or perhaps he just thought no one else would.  Looking for news stories about the accident, I also uncovered an advertisement for the concert itself. It was in the Friday, February 5, edition of the Arkansas Gazette, a morning paper at the time.

Ark Gazette 60.02.05 (Fri)Who would you say is at the top of this bill? And does this bill not promise more than three acts? Note that there is only one time listed for the show, so there is a possibility that the seating was integrated, but it is also quite possible that the seating was segregated within the venue.

Two entertainers from this bill, Bobby Freeman and Bobby Lewis, may still be living, but I have not been able to contact either of them. Still, I hold out hope of hearing from someone who can say for certain whether the seating was integrated or segregated. Perhaps  someone reading this now will have information on the important issue. One thing is clear from the advertisement: the concert was not a dance concert. Robinson Auditorium would not have accommodated that activity.

Another thing is significant: the Little Rock, Hope, and Texarkana newspapers I scoured had no information about the concert itself and no mention of any altercation. All the information was about the collision and the results of the accident.

Could the newspapers have suppressed information about the entertainers having been run out of town?

Not likely. Three years earlier, Little Rock had been the focus of national attention for racial confrontations over the integration of Central High School. As a national focal point on racial conflict, I doubt such a story could be hidden. Also, I found (online) a court document from a lawsuit filed against Twin City Amusement Co. (the ticket agent listed on this ad). The suit resulted from a racially-charged incident that occurred in a parking lot after one of their concerts, a concert that took place only a year after the one Jackie headlined. Race was everyday news in Little Rock. In short, I think it’s unlikely that the papers would refrain from reporting on performers having been run out of town by an angry mob.

Anyway, the “run out of town” scenario relied on the concert not taking place. And it did.

Jesse Belvin’s cousin. Jesse Belvin Jr kept urging me to call his cousin—actually his father’s first cousin—a man who lived in Texarkana then and who lives there now, a man who was the last member of the family to see Jesse Sr alive.

I am not going to identify the cousin by name. I asked him if I could write what he told me, and that was fine with him, but when I asked if he would read it online, just to see if I got everything right, he said he did not have a computer and did not know how to use one. I figure that if he has gotten to age seventy-two without the Internet, it’s not fair to drag him onto it now, so I will just call him Billy.

Jesse Belvin’s mother came from the Texarkana area, and prior to the Little Rock and Dallas concerts on Jesse’s schedule, Jesse and Jo Ann set aside a week to visit with family. Among those family members was Billy, a young man who loved cars and was immediately taken with the vehicle Jesse pulled into his driveway: a 1959 “aqua-colored” Cadillac Sedan de Ville. To his surprise and delight, Jesse tossed him the keys and told him to take it for a spin. (You may want to check out a twin of the vehicle on YouTube.)

Billy was one of the most charming people I have ever spoken with, and we talked about the music of the Fifties and Sixties, Jackie Wilson, and Sam Cooke, in addition to the events in Little Rock back in 1960. Billy told me that Jesse and Jo Ann stayed with the family about a week before going off somewhere in Texas for rehearsals. Everyone had a great time, and Jesse told Billy that he and  Jo Ann would stop back in Texarkana again for a day or so in between a couple concert dates and driving back to Los Angeles.

Instead, Billy would see Jo Ann unconscious in a hospital bed and identify Jesse’s body in a morgue.

Kirk Davis. I spoke to Billy prior to receiving the microfilm of the newspapers, so I was unaware at that point that there had been a fourth person in the Belvin vehicle. In addition to the driver, Charles Ford, and Jesse and Jo Ann, all of whom rode in the front seat of the car, there was a guitarist named Kirk Davis in the back seat, possibly asleep at the moment of the crash. Davis survived the wreck and was hospitalized in Texarkana for many weeks after the accident. Kirk was far from his wife and home in Detroit, and Billy visited him regularly through his weeks of hospitalization. When Kirk was finally released from the hospital, he stayed at Billy’s house until his wife could drive down from Detroit to take him home.

Kirk’s injuries were severe (indeed one newspaper account said there was little hope for his recovery), and he was somewhat disfigured by his injuries. Once he regained consciousness, he endured a great deal of pain. Out of consideration for the ordeal Kirk had been through, Billy did his best to steer their conversations away from the accident and its aftermath, but Kirk did tell Billy that he had secured the gig as Jesse’s guitarist through his union, and he said that he had been very eager to work with Jesse, because Jesse was a rising star. Kirk also spoke of the concert itself, and he did not mention anything amiss or unusual about the performance.

The concert definitely took place.


One of Our Hero’s most famous moves occurred as he rose from his knees. The move was not a gymnastic maneuver. Pure lower-body strength and impeccable balance propelled him upward.

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New YouTube postings 2

Some recent postings of Jackie Wilson videos are well worth checking out. There are new cuts from “The Jerry Lewis Show” that have clearer pictures and better sound than the some of the old ones posted before.

Please listen to Jerry Lee’s introduction to Jackie on the “Higher and Higher” video. It is so true a statement of what should have been, had not so much evil been perpetrated against Jackie Wilson. Unfortunately, the video and audio tracks are not synchronized as the performance continues.

Here “Lonely Teardrops” is followed by “If I Had a Hammer.” In the last video Jackie sings an old gospel favorite of Jerry Lee’s, “I’ll Fly Away.”

New YouTube postings 1

Here are two fantastic videos from the old Dick Clark Beechnut Show. Both performances are lip synchronizations of songs written by Berry Gordy Jr and Billy Davis. The first is a much clearer copy than we have had before of Jackie performing “Lonely Teardrops,” complete with a leap from an upper step into some splits. Berry Gordy once expressed amazement that Jackie could do this sort of thing without, uh, “hurting something.” Well, Jackie continued to father children after this video was made.



The second video is one many of us had not seen since we were teenagers, Jackie doing “That’s Why (I Love You So).” He appears just after the 1:20 timing mark.


Chambers Brothers alert

Do you enjoy watching this wonderful video of Jackie Wilson on Shindig! singing “She’s All Right,” the one with the Chambers Brothers providing the backing vocals? Check out this article on CNN’s Web site about Lester Chambers, yet another of the many African American performers cheated by the “recording industry.”