Jimmy Soul Biography

James McCleese, 24 August 1942, Weldon, North Carolina, USA, d. 25 June 1988. A former boy preacher, McCleese acquired his ‘Soul’ epithet from his congregations. He subsequently toured southern US states as a member of several gospel groups, including the famed Nightingales, wherein Soul was billed as ‘The Wonder Boy’, before discovering a forte for pop and R&B. He became a popular attraction around the Norfolk area of Virginia where he was introduced to songwriter/producer Frank Guida, who guided the career of Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds. Soul joined Guida’s S.P.Q.R. label and enjoyed a Top 20 US R&B hit with his debut single, ‘Twistin’ Matilda’, before striking gold with his second release, ‘If You Wanna Be Happy’, which topped the US pop chart in 1963. Both songs were remakes of popular calypso tunes, reflecting Guida’s passion for West Indian music. The song also became a minor hit in Britain, and was latterly covered by the Peter B’s, a group that included Peter Bardens, Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood. It proved to be Soul’s final chart entry although he remained a popular entertainer until his death in June 1988.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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