Best Bets: Wilson pays tribute to his famous father in Harrington

Bobby Brooks Wilson will pay tribute to his father Jackie Wilson during two shows tonight at the Harrington Casino’s Gold Room. He didn’t know he was the son of the famed entertainer until years after becoming a tribute artist where he portrayed the singer. (Submitted photo)

For years, Bobby Brooks was told that he looked like, sounded like and acted like the late R&B singer Jackie Wilson.

And as it turns out, there was a good reason for that. He is Jackie Wilson’s son. But it wasn’t until later in life that he found that out.

Now known as Bobby Brooks Wilson, he brings a show paying tribute to his dad to Harrington Casino’s Gold Room tonight for performances at 6 and 8:30 p.m.

Mr. Brooks’ stranger than fiction tale starts in New York City where he was born to a mother who didn’t have the ability to care for him. So she gave him up when he was an infant.

He was raised by a foster mother in South Carolina and he then enlisted in the Navy, where he met his real mother once.

He wanted to make a career out of the Navy, but 10 years in, he received a medical discharge while serving in Hawaii. While waiting for his discharge to come through, he started singing and then hosting karaoke at a bar in Pearl Harbor.

One night he was approached by Peter Hernandez Jr. ,who had a doo-wop group called The Love Notes. One of the members was his son, who became known as Bruno Mars.

It was then he started to hear the comparisons to Jackie Wilson, who was known as “Mr. Excitement” during his performing days in the 50s, 60s and early 70s. Known for hits such as “Lonely Teardrops” and “Higher and Higher,” he influenced many of the great R&B artists who came after him.

But Mr. Brooks didn’t have any real idea who Jackie Wilson was.

“I used to hear the music as a kid but didn’t really know who he was. Growing up, my foster mom listened to gospel and country and western music,” he said.

“When I was with the Love Notes, we sang some of Jackie’s music, but I was never in the front for that.”

While singing with The Love Notes, the tribute artist show Legends in Concert came calling. Paul Revere, who made his own mark in music with the singing group Paul Revere and The Raiders, came calling for him to join the show as Jackie.

“I really didn’t have any interest. I wanted to make my own mark. But he said to give it a thought and come see a show,” Mr. Brooks recalled.

After seeing a performance and its high production values, Mr. Brooks was sold on the idea but didn’t have any experience as a tribute artist, much less knowing how to act like Jackie Wilson.

“But Paul just asked me to do some research on Jackie and when I go to sleep each night, just dream of being onstage with dancers and the music and the whole bit,” he said.

Six months later, he auditioned and he was hired on the spot — the first time that had ever happened with a Legends in Concert act.

He joined the show in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was there that his life changed forever.

One night in 1997 after a show, he was told that two members of The Four Tops, Levi Stubbs and Lawrence Payton, both cousins of Jackie Wilson, wanted to see him. They were performing a private function elsewhere in the hotel and had come in to take in a performance afterward.

Summoned to an upstairs room, he was asked by the men if he was acting like Jackie Wilson at the current moment.

“I remember saying ‘No. I don’t know what he would be like offstage.’ They both laughed,” Mr. Brooks said.

“There was no YouTube or anything like that then. There wasn’t much for me to go on except my looks and own mannerisms. I couldn’t really find much on black artists. All I had was this one passage from a book that said ‘an acrobatic, good-looking black man, he influenced early R&B singers.’

“It was then that they asked me what my mother’s name was and I told them. They said ‘We knew her back in the day and she was hanging around with Jackie. He’s your father.”

Mr. Brooks said a mixture of shock and wonderment came over him.

“I didn’t believe them. I just thought they were enamored with me. I guess I was a bit naive at first,” he said.

Later, he met another cousin of Jackie’s, Roquel Billy Davis, who helped write songs for Mr. Wilson, including “Lonely Teardrops.” He further confirmed the relationship after meeting him and seeing him perform and Mr. Brooks got blood work done in 2000 to officially put a cap on the case.

“I went from having no family to having a ton of family. Too much family actually,” he said.

“He was a real ladies’ man. They loved him.”

Mr. Wilson was married three times, having children with those women and also bore children with other women out of wedlock.

“He was never aware of me. I run into people all the time who say they are cousins or siblings of mine,” he said.

Mr. Wilson died in 1984 after being in a coma following a heart attack on stage at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1975.

Mr. Brooks, who has a four-octave range just like his famous father, went on to develop his own show with the blessing of the Wilson family.

A few years ago, he put out a CD of original music called “It’s About Time.” Four songs off of the album hit the Top 10 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

“Not bad for a guy in his 50s,” he said with a laugh.

Tonight’s show will lean heavily on the songs that his father made famous but he would like to eventually carve out a career with his original music while still carrying on the family name.

“I gotta keep the legacy alive. But I’ll keep pushing and promoting. Even if I become as big as Bruno Mars, Jackie Wilson will always share the limelight with me.”

Tickets are $14 and can be purchased at the door or at All ages are welcome.

Sylvia at Songwriters show

As we told you last week the Smyrna Opera House will host another in the Songwriters & Storytellers series tonight at 7:30.

The evening’s show will feature singer/songwriters Sylvia, Thom Schuyler, Craig Bickhardt and Sol Knopf with John Mock.

Sylvia is known chart-topping hits such as “Nobody” in 1983. She released five albums with a dozen No. 1 and Top 10 hits, sold over 4 million records, and won multiple awards including the Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year and Billboard’s No. 1 Country Female Artist.

Country music performer Sylvia, who was named Academy of Country Music’s Female Vocalist of the Year and Billboard’s No. 1 Country Female Artist, both in 1983, will take part in the next installment of the Songwriters and Storytellers Series tonight at the Smyrna Opera House. (Submitted photo)

Mr. Schuyler was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2011. He wrote songs recorded by more than 20 artists including “16th Avenue” for Lacy J. Dalton, “Love Will Turn You Around” for Kenny Rogers, and “A Long Line of Love” for Michael Martin Murphey.

Mr. Bickhardt has penned four No. 1 Country hits and nine top 10 hits for artists such as The Judds, Johnny Cash and Martina McBride.

Mr. Mock has worked with such notable artists as The Dixie Chicks, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, Nanci Griffith, Maura O’Connell, Kathy Mattea and Mark O’Connor.

Mr. Knopf is widely known in the area for his local performances and original songwriting, including the wedding staple “My Baby Girl.”

Tickets are $20 general admission, $16 for Smyrna Opera House members, senior citizens and military an $10 for children 12 and under.

They can be purchased at, by calling 653-4236 or visiting the box office at 7 W. South St., Smyrna.

Gary Allan at Dover Downs

Country music star Gary Allan, who has topped the charts for more than 20 years, will perform at Dover Downs Hotel & Casino’s Rollins Center tonight at 9. A limited amount of tickets are still available.

Mr. Allan’s latest album, “Set You Free,” topped Billboard’s pop and country charts after its release in 2013.

The album’s hit single, “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain),” led the country radio charts. Allan has 14 top 10 hits to his credit and more than 1.8 billion total streams, including “Man to Man” (2003), “Tough Little Boys” (2003) and “Nothing On but the Radio” (2004).

Tickets range from $50 to $70 and can be purchased at

Performers sought

The Modern Maturity Center Dinner Theater is looking for performers for its 50th anniversary dinner theater production. The show, “MMC Celebrates 50,” set for June 25, 26 and 27, features music from 1969 to 2019.

If you are interested in auditioning as a soloist, duet or small group, contact Carolyn Fredricks at 302-734-1200, ext. 113. All ages welcome.

Performers range from 2 to over 80. Open casting available for those participating in group numbers, just come to the first rehearsal Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the center on Del. 8 in Dover. MMC dinner theater productions raise funds to support programs for older adults in Kent County.

Now Showing

New this weekend in theaters is a remake of the action/adventure film “Hellboy,” the romantic drama “After,” the age-swapping comedy “Little” and the animated film “Missing Link.”

New on DVD and download starting Tuesday is the Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis thriller “Glass,” the animated “Dragon Ball Super: Broly,” the family film “The Kid Who Would Be King” and Keanu Reeves in “Replicas.”

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