John “Bootsie’’ Wilson, 69; was last of soul’s The Silhouettes
COLUMBIA, S.C. - The Rev. John “Bootsie’’ Wilson, a former lead singer and last surviving member of the soul group The Silhouettes, has died. He was 69.
Rev. Wilson died Sept. 21 at his home in Spartanburg, S.C., after batting cancer and a kidney ailment, his wife, Pauline, said.
The Philadelphia native joined The Silhouettes in 1961, after the original lead singer left the group, perhaps best known for the 1958 smash hit “Get a Job,’’ which stayed at number one for 13 consecutive weeks. It was among the first rhythm and blues songs to cross over and become number one on the pop charts.
“They called ‘Get a Job’ the national anthem of doo-wop,’’ said Elaine Lewis, the widow of original member Richard Lewis, who wrote the song. “It spearheaded a whole subgenre of doo-wop, where the bass singer was the star.’’
Ten years later, Rev. Wilson recorded the song with the group, rebranded as The New Silhouettes, on the album, “The Original and New Silhouettes - ’58/68 Get A Job.’’
Other notable recordings by the group with Rev. Wilson included the 1962 “Move On Over (To Another Land).’’
Its 1963 single “Rent Man’’ was a hit in Philadelphia, and its 1968 recording “Not Me Baby,’’ which Rev. Wilson in an interview earlier this year called his favorite,went on to become a 1970s dance hit in Great Britain, said music historian Charlie Horner of Classic Urban Harmony of Somerset, N.J.
“John’s songs, I think, were the best ones. Somehow, ‘Get a Job’ got all the attention, but clearly John was the best lead singer they had, hands down,’’ said Elaine Lewis, 62. “He had a marvelous voice.’’
Rev. Wilson and Richard Lewis were friends before Rev. Wilson officially joined The Silhouettes. He sang with Lewis in 1957 and with the group at other times, Rev. Wilson told Elaine Lewis in an interview in February published online.
Elaine Lewis said Rev. Wilson cried when he listened to the old songs during a visit to her home in Philadelphia.
“He was so proud of that part of his life, his life as a Silhouette,’’ she said. “He was so nostalgic about that period of his life, and he missed his fallen comrades.’’
A website maintained by her daughter, Shana Lewis, calls Rev. Wilson a lost hero of 1960s soul music.
“It’s an end of an era; The Silhouettes were one of the greatest vocal groups of all time,’’ said Horner, who interviewed Rev. Wilson in April.
Rev. Wilson moved to South Carolina in 1972 and became a minister two years later. He served as an African Methodist Episcopal pastor for three decades at eight churches.
He kept singing, his beautiful voice filling dozens of churches as he traveled across the state, Pauline Wilson said. “When people asked him about the singing voice he had, he’d go into it, telling them all about The Silhouettes,’’ she said.