Singer, songwriter, and producer Chuck Jackson earned his place in music history landing 23 songs on the R&B and Top 40 charts. An elegant baritone called "Mr. Everything" by his fans Jackson is best known for his all time classic R&B standard "Any Day Now". His other top hits include "I Don’t Want to Cry”, “Beg Me” and "All Over the World". Jackson's hit duet with Dionne Warwick "If I Let Myself Go" won a Grammy nomination in 1986.
Jackson began his professional career in Pittsburgh as a member of the chart topping Doo Wop group the Del Vikings from 1957 to 1959. Going solo in 1960 he headlined at Pittsburgh clubs and recorded for Clock Records scoring several hits in Pittsburgh. He toured with the Jackie Wilson Revue before signing with Wand Records. He had his first national hit single in 1961 when "I Don't Want to Cry" reached No. 5 in R&B and No. 36 in Pop. Chuck has recorded on the Clock, Wand Records, Motown, ABC, EMI, and Platinum labels releasing 24 albums.
As a producer/engineer/arranger Chuck Jackson has worked on production of recordings by Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Freddie Jackson and Regina Belle, Tom Jones, Michael McDonald, Boys 2 Men, Aretha Franklin, Michael Henderson, and Pittsburghers Phyllis Hyman and Stanley Turrentine .
Many artists have covered Chuck Jackson’s songs. Ronnie Milsap's 1982 recording of “Any Day Now” reached #1 on the Country and Adult Contemporary charts. Michael McDonald scored a hit with his cover of Jackson's "I Keep Forgettin'". Jackson was a major influence on singer Tom Jones.
An R&B pioneer Chuck Jackson has been honored for being one of the first "soul singers". Jackson was the recipient of the 1992 Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. He has also been honored with induction into the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame, designation as an “American Treasure” by the Smithsonian, Institution, induction into the National Black Sports and Entertainment Hall of Fame for Cultural Achievement, and receipt of the Motown Heroes and Legends Award.
Carolina Gospel Roots
Charles Jackson was born on July 22, 1937, in Latta, South Carolina. He was one of five children to his mother Lucille. Jackson had a brother Homer and three sisters. He never knew his father. His mother put him in the care of her parents when he was eighteen months old. Escaping the back breaking cotton fields she moved north to Pittsburgh to find work leaving him behind. As child Jackson's grand-parents put him to work picking cotton in the fields of South Carolina. His respite from toil in the hot cotton fields was music. Young Charles began singing gospel music in the church choir ag age six. He was so naturally talented that by age eight he had his own fifteen-minute radio show on Sunday mornings playing piano and singing.
Jackson was 12 when he competed in a statewide competition with his church choir. Emulating his musical hero opera singer Enrico Caruso he liked to sing high notes at the end of songs. Going into the competition his music teacher forbid him from belting out high notes saying "Don't you do that, keep your voice down with the other baritones. Don't hit that note." With his choir singing the last song in the competition Jackson wowed the judges and crowd with his high notes at the end of hymn “The Holy City”. His teacher wanted to kill him. The amazed judges awarded Jackson a scholarship to South Carolina State College. He had to complete high school before he could take advantage of the college scholarship.
Fleeing to Pittsburgh for Education and Jazz
In the days before the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made school segregation unconstitutional, the South Carolina schools discriminated against African American students. Chuck Jackson experienced this first hand at age 13. His local school was closed. He was sent to the cotton fields to work denied the opportunity to learn. As he was laboring in the fields he watched bus loads of white students ride past on their way school. Without a high school degree he would not be able to use his South Carolina College scholarship. Fed up he decided to follow his mother moving north to Pittsburgh to get an education in 1950.
Jackson moved in with one of his seven aunts to attend school in Pittsburgh. His love of music drew him to the clubs of the Hill District. At 14 he began sneaking into jazz clubs to watch drummer Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver. They always kicked him out, but he said in an interview that it was worth it. "Thank God I did it, Because today I incorporate jazz and pop into my rhythm-and-blues performance. It's a wonderful mix; I picked it up from sneaking in and listening." Jackson stayed with his aunt until he completed his public school education.
In 1955 Chuck Jackson joined the Doo Wop group The 5 Mellows singing tenor with them at the Bonange Club on Route 51 South and at the Blue Ridge and the Cobe Hotels. After Jackson left the group they became the recording artists the 4 Dots. In 1955 and 1956 Jackson sang and recorded with the Cleveland based Ray Raspberry Gospel Singers with Doris Willingham.
Civil Rights Fight at South Carolina State
Chuck Jackson returned to South Carolina to use his scholarship in 1956. He enrolled at South Carolina State College (SCSC) in Orangeburg majoring in music. Chuck studied with the music department chairman and mentors Ellen Simmons and Clyde Toomer. But once again Southern segregation drove him back to Pittsburgh. At SCSC Jackson was caught in one of the first big battles off the Civil Rights movement.
Students at the all Black college were barred from "white-only" lunch counter at the Kress Department store and other Orangeburg restaurants. The students negotiated with the store managers asking them to lift the unjust ban, but their requests were denied. In protest forty student held a sit-in at the Kress lunch counter on February 25th and 26th. Kress closed the counter and removed the stools. On March 1 four hundred students continued the protest against segregation marching into downtown Organeburg. The police broke up the march and the the city quickly passed an ordinance outlawing picketing. The students then went on a hunger strike and boycotted local stores.
After Kress and other stores re-opened their lunch counters in mid March 1,000 students marched into downtown Orangeburg to protest the continued segregation. The Orangeburg police attacked the peaceful students with clubs and tear-gas and the fire department using high presses hoses spraying freezing water knocking the students to the ground. Around 400 students were arrested and in locked into an outdoor stockade that had once been the site of slave auctions. Other students who tried to give food and blankets to the protesters were also arrested. The protesters were convicted in a trial and fined heavily.
The SCSC administration banned the campus NAACP chapter. SCSC President Benner C. Turner threatened to expel any student who protested against segregation. The South Carolina legislature passed a law making it a crime to "refuse to leave a place of business when asked to do so by the management." The Orangeburg stores continued their Jim Crow segregation..
The South Carolina legislature launched on investigation of the NAACP. To protest the state's investigation of the NAACP in April of 1956 the SCSC students went on strike refusing to attend class. The SCSC administration expelled twenty five students and let five faculty members go.
After the arrests, trials, and expulsions many of the student leaders left SCSC to join the Freedom Movement. They advised the freshmen Charles Jackson to leave repressive school.
Segregation and suppression continued in Orangeburg throughout the 1960s. On February 8, 1968 nine South Carolina Highway Patrol officers fired into a crowd of student protesters demonstrating against segregation at a bowling alley near the campus of South Carolina State College campus. Three men were killed and twenty-eight people were wounded. It is known as the Organgeburg Massacre.
Singing in Pittsburgh
Charles Jackson escaped the oppression of South Carolina and returned to Pittsburgh in 1956. He found his first professional success as a member of the Del Vikings from 1957 through 1959.
Del Viking Days
The Pittsburgh based group the Del Vikings signed with Joe Aveback’s Fee Bee Records in the Fall of 1956. They released the single "Come Go With Me" single in December of 1956. The song rose quickly on the charts reaching Number 4 on Billboard's Pop chart and Number #2 on the R&B chart. It was the first top ten hit by a racially-mixed group in the U.S. It stayed on the charts for 31 weeks making it a million seller. The Del Vikings' second big hit on Fee Bee/Dot Records was "Whispering Bells" with Kripp Johnson singing lead. It reached number nine on the pop charts in the summer of 1957.
Chuck Johnson joined the Del Vikings in May of 1957 when the Del Vikings split into two groups. The Del Vikings' manager Alan Strauss found a loophole in the Fee Bee contract. All of the members of the Del Vikings (except for Kripp Johnson) had been under 21 when they signed with Fee Bee. As they were underage their contracts were unenforceable. Strauss negotiated a better deal with Mercury Records. Members Norman Wright, David Lerchey, Gus Backus, Clarence Quick and Joe Lopes all were signed to Mercury as the "Del Vikings”.
A second group named the “Dell-Vikings” was formed around Kripp Johnston who was still under contract to Fee Bee Records. Three new members were added to the Fee Bee Del-Vikings Arthur Budd, Edward Everette, and Chuck Jackson. In August of 1957 Fee Bee released the “Del-Vikings” single "I'm Spinning" / "You Say You Love Me".
Mercury Records won a lawsuit against Fee Bee in October 1957 giving it the exclusive right to the Del Viking name. In November of 1957 Fee Bee/ Dot released the single "Willette"/"Woke Up This Morning" by "Kripp Johnson & Chuck Jackson". Jackson sang the lead on Willette which became a hit in Pittsburgh.
In 1957 Fee Bee also released the singles Finger Poppin' Woman / Tell Me as Kripp Johnson with The Del-Vikings and the single When I Come Home / I'm Spinning.
Chuck Jackson went on a 90 day national tour with the Fee Bee "Dell-Vikings" in a production called the "Fantabulous Rock & Roll Show Of 1957. Also touring with the show were Mickey & Sylvia, the Velours, Ray Charles, Larry Williams, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, the Moonglows, Roy Brown, Annie Laurie, Nappy Brown, and Tiny Topsy.
The Fee Bee group became “Chuck Jackson and the Versatiles” when Kripp Johnson’s Fee Bee contract expired in December of 1957 and he left to rejoin the Del Vikings on Mercury. The Versatiles with Chuck Jackson singing lead performed at the "Top Ten Revue Of 1958" at Pittsburgh's Syria Mosque in April of 1958 appearing with Bill Haley & the Comets, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, the Bobbettes, the Heartbeats, the Shirelles, Ivory Joe Hunter, and others.
Joe Averback released several records by the the "Versatiles" on his new Petite label in 1959 with Chuck Jackson singing leads including "Willete"/"A Little Man Cried" and "Willete"/"Cold Feet". The Versatiles broke up in 1959 and Jackson began his solo career.
The "Dell-Vikings" opened for singer Jackie Wilson at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. After the show Wilson invited Chuck Jackson to his dressing room. Wilson told Jackson that he was not a group singer, he had the talent to be a solo artist. He offered to help Jackson start his solo career.
Charles "Willette" Jackson on Clock Records
Jackson became a star in Pittsburgh singing the lead on the the Charles Jackson and Kripp Johnson's Versatiles song "Willette" released on Petite Records in 1959. It was a Doo Wop tune sung to the music of Oh Danny Boy. Capitalizing on the regional hit Jackson became a solo act in 1959 billed as the headliner Charles "Willette" Jackson "the Petite recording artist". He performed in the Pittsburgh area during 1959 and 1960 backed by the Sonny Stanton Quintet and later the Willie Love Combo at Tropics Lounge, The Hi-Hat and The Liberty Lounge on the North Side, the Schmidt Hotel in Clairton, the Hurricane club on the Hill, and Chappies.
On November 30, 1959 Billboard Magazine announced that Chuck Jackson, former lead of the Del Vikings, signed with Clock Records. He released the singles Come On And Love Me / Ooh Baby in 1959, I'm Yours / Hula-Hula in 1960, and This Is It / Mr. Pride in 1960 on the Clock label. "Come On And Love Me" hit the KQV AM charts in Jan of 1960 peaking at number 29.
Touring with Jackie Wilson
Jackson took up Jackie Wilson's offer and joined the Jackie Wilson Revue at the Apollo Theater in 1960. Wilson gave Jackson an opening solo slot and taught Jackson how to wow the audience with emotional high drama stage antics. Jackson went on tour with the Jackie Wilson Revue appearing at The Regal in Chicago, the Uptown in Philadelphia, and the Howard in Washington DC.
Working regularly with the Jackie Wilson Revue at the Apollo Jackson became a hot prospect. The Brunswick, RCA, and Columbia records label were all trying to sign Jackson. Scepter Records owner Florence Greenberg and producer / A&R man Luther Dixon saw Jackson perform at the Apollo Theater in 1960. They came back stage after a show to make Jackson an offer, To win the bidding war Henderson offered Chuck his own label imprint "Wand Records".
Scepter Records which was founded by Florence Greenburg in 1959 was a hot new label that had achieved great success with the Shirelles recording of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin song "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" and the songs "Dedicated To The One I Love" and "Soldier Boy." They also had huge hits with the
the Isley Brothers' "Twist And Shout" and the Kingsmen's "Louie Louie.
Working with talented Brill Building writers and arrangers Jackson had 21 hits records on the Scepter/Wand label through most of the sixties. His first single on Wand, "I Don't Want to Cry", that he co-wrote with Luther Dixen was arranged by Carol King. It reached number 5 on the R&B charts and broke into the Top 40 in 1961. Scepter/Wand paired Jackson with the budding song writing team of Hal David and Burt Bacharach who wrote his next hit single "I Wake Up Crying” which peaked at No. 13 on the R&B Charts. Jackson, Bacharach, and David hit pay dirt with the next single "Any Day Now'. which hit number 2 R&B and No. 23 on the Top 40 in 1962.
Scepter paired Jackson in duets with Doris Taylor and Maxine Brown. Jackson and Taylor scored a number 5 R&B hit with the energetic song “Beg Me” in 1964. Working together Maxine Brown and Jackson recorded the classic tunes "Baby Take Me" and the 1965 number 10 R&B hit "Something You Got". A young Dionne Warrick also on the Scepter label, sang backup on several of Jackson's singles and they became lifelong friends..
Smokey Robinson told Jackson that if he ever left Scepter, Motown would sign. Taking Smokey up on the offer Barry Gordon bought out Jackson's contract from Spepter/ Wand in 1967. Jackson recorded three albums on Motown and several successful singles including "Honey Come Back" and the Smokey song “You Can’t Let the Boy Overpower", "The Man in You”, and “Girls, Girls, Girls”. His first Motown album "Chuck Jackson Arrives" charted at 48 on the R&B album charts. Motown reissued all three Jackson albums and other tracks as the "Chuck Jackson - The Motown Anthology" in 2005.
ABC and Grammy Nomination
Jackson left Motown to sign with ABC Records in 1970 where he recorded album "Through All Time", the single "I Only Get This Feeling” that reached number 35 on the R&B charts in 1973, and "I Can't Breakaway" that was a number 62 R&B hit in 1974.. After ABC went out of business Jackson signed with EMI. Jackson scored a number 9 hit on the Disco chart with the song "Love Light" released on the All Platinum label in 1975, All Platinum also released his 1976 number 30 R&B hit balled "I'm Needing You,Wanting You".
August 16, 1975 was proclaimed "Chuck Jackson Day" in Allegheny County when Jackson returned home to Pittsburgh to perform on the Hill at the the Crawford Grill.
Recording on the Baby Bollox label Jackson hit the R&B charts with a cover of the Bob Marley song "I Wanna Give You Some Love" in 1980.
Jackson teamed with Dionne Warwick in 1998 to record "If I Let Myself Go". Nominated for a Grammy as the Best Duet it became Jackson 23rd chart hit.
Remembering the struggle for civil rights in his native South Carolina Chuck Jackson works with civic leaders and donates his time to improving inner-city life by performing in benefit concert and organizing events.