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January 31, 2003 - Image 63

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-01-31

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Leading the Detroit cast are Chester
Gregory II, the dynamic actor who created the
Wilson role in Chicago two years ago, and
Melba Moore, the Tony Award-winning
Broadway actress, who plays Jackie's moth-
er, Eliza Mae Wilson.
A supporting cast of veteran actors re-
creates the roles of Wilson's contempo-
raries, including Motown songwriter
and entrepreneur Berry Gordy Jr.,
entertainers Sam Cooke, Clyde
McPhatter, Etta James and LaVern
Baker, and songwriter Roquel (Billy)
Davis, who grew up with Wilson
and performed with him as part of
Billy Ward's Dominoes, serves as the
on-stage narrator for Wilson's life
story. He and Gordy, a former boxer,
wrote songs for Wilson in the early
days, and Gordy used the royalties on

Ltft• Chester Gregory H plays the
lead in "The Jackie Wilson Stoiy
(My Heartls Crying, Crying),"
at Music Hall Center for the
Performing Arts.

Right: Tony Award-winning
actress Melba Moore plays Jackie's
mother, Eliza Mae Wilson.

nine of the hits to establish the
Hitsville Studio where many of
the greatest Motown tunes
were recorded.
"This is not just a musical
performance, but a strong
educational show about the
Motown era," said
Kabatznick. "We've played
in several cities around
the country, and it brings
out Motown fans from
everywhere, and they just

adore everything about it."

Life In The Fast Lane

To add to the sudden Motown frenzy, a new
book, Motown: Music, Money, Sex and Power
(Random House; $24.95), by author, lawyer
and historian Gerald Posner, was published
last month.
It describes the behind-the-scenes ambi-
tions, talents, egos and infighting that pro-
pelled Motown founder Gordy's humble
Hitsville Studio on West Grand Boulevard in
Detroit to a multimillion-dollar operation in
"Wilson [was] a flashy, athletic artist whose
gyrating stage performances, coupled with his
almost operatic delivery and unique combina-
tion of styles from both black blues singers
and white crooners, had made him a star,"
Posner writes.
The singer began
drinking cheap
wine at the age of
9, started singing
with a group as a
teenager, dropped
out of school at 16
after being a habit-
ual truant, became
a Detroit Golden
Gloves boxing
champion, was
married twice and
had many girl-
friends. He was
shot by one of
them in a New
York City hotel in
1961, losing a kid-
ney and carrying a
bullet near his
spine for the rest of
his life.
Wilson went
broke several times,
was hounded by
the Internal
Revenue Service,
and was arrested in
South Carolina on
morals charge
(involving a
He suffered a heart attack in 1975 while
performing, remaining hospitalized in a coma
for almost nine years until his death. To add
to the family tragedy, his son, 16-year-old
Jackie Jr., was shot and killed in a Detroit
altercation in 1970. His daughter, Denise, was
killed in a Detroit drive-by shooting in 1987.

Jewish Or Not?

Surrounded by Jews throughout his career,
Wilson acted like he was Jewish and told
MR. EXCITEMENT on page 64

In The

The Jews of Motown played
a vital role, but usually
behind the scenes.


Special to the Jewish News


frican-American performers and execu-
tives obviously dominated the scene when
the Motown music craze started in
Detroit in the late 1950s-early 1960s.
But many Jewish people stood with them along the
way, playing influential roles as they helped guide
them on the road to success. Many Jews worked in
the background at Motown, as sales representatives,
lawyers and accountants.
Among the Jews who figured prominently in the
Motown story were singer Jackie Wilson's manager,
Nat Tarnopol, and maybe even Wilson himself,
although his Jewishness has never been authoritative-
ly documented.
Trusting Tarnopol implicitly and foolishly, Wilson
signed over power of attorney to him on many busi-
ness matters. Some Motown insiders say Wilson was
"used" by Tarnopol throughout his career, and, even
though he sold millions of records worldwide, he was
deeply in debt when he died. It was alleged that
Tarnopol and others guiding his career were stealing
from him all along.
Tarnopol, also president of Brunswick Records at
the time, escaped charges in the 1970s of defrauding
artists and songwriters only because a higher court
reversed the original verdict, then a new trial ended
in a mistrial. Tarnopol died in 1987.
"The situation experienced by Wilson occurred many
times among the Motown artists and there's a logical
explanation for it," says author/historian Gerald Posner,
author of Motown: Music, Money, Sex and Power.
"The artists earned a great deal'of money and
spent it like crazy," he says, "and when they found
out later the money was gone and they were in debt,
they blamed it on their managers.
"Also, they didn't realize the contracts stipulated
that the money advanced to them would be deducted
from their royalties. And let's face it, many were the
victims of onerous contracts."
Posner (pronounced Pahs-ner) a Manhattan native,
is a former Wall Street lawyer and author of seven
books on subjects ranging from Nazi war criminals
to assassinations to the lives of politicians.
He researched Motown at the Detroit Public Library's
Azalia Hackley Collection of Negro Music and the






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