Soul legend Wilson Pickett had a heart attack and died while seeking help at a hospital in Reston, Virginia, near his home in Ashburn on Thursday (January 19); he was 64 years old.
Pickett, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991, helped shape modern R&B with his stripped-down classics like "In the Midnight Hour" and "Mustang Sally." His gruff voice, raw sexuality and sweaty style earned him the nickname of "the Wicked Pickett."
Pickett's 40-plus-year career started when he sang gospel in Southern Baptist churches in Pratville, Alabama. Later as a teen in Detroit, Pickett joined the vocal group the Violinaires and eventually the Falcons, who had a hit with "I Found a Love," which Pickett wrote.
Going solo, he had hits with "If You Need Me" and "It's Too Late." After signing to Atlantic in 1964, producer Jerry Wexler took him to Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, where Pickett recoreded with Booker T. and the MG's. Within a year, Pickett co-wrote his best-remembered song — and Stax's first breakout hit — "In the Midnight Hour," which introduced a deeper and more forceful style of soul music.
Much of the flurry of songs that followed, most of which were recorded at Stax and at the Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama — such as "Funky Broadway" and "Land of 1000 Dances" — were pop hits as well. He collaborated with Philadelphia producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for his hits "Engine Number 9" and "Don't Let the Green Grass Bring You Down," which became part of the cornerstone of the emerging Philly sound. One Philadelphia DJ called his music "psychedelic soulization."
"Wilson was a consummate entertainer," his longtime manager Margo Lewis said. "He truly loved to perform, and when he took the stage, he would give the audience every last bit of energy in his body. The unique sound and quality of his voice only got better with age, singing his hits in their original keys well into his 60s. He influenced generations of singers and musicians. No matter what your age is, his records will pull you out of your seat onto the dance floor. Soulful and intense, that was Pickett, the music and the man."
Although he didn't actually appear in the "The Commitments," it helped introduce him to a new audience, since the hit film focused on the efforts of a fledgling Dublin soul band to meet and perform with Pickett, who was their idol. Pickett performed with the Commitments at the film's premieres in New York and Los Angeles.
Pickett is survived by his fiancee, Gail Webb, his sons Lynderrick and Michael, his daughters Veda and Saphan, as well as several brothers and sisters. A viewing of his body is being arranged in Virginia for next week, and then he'll be interred with his mother, Lena, in Louisville, Kentucky.