In “The Eve of Jackie,” Chester Gregory will recreate soul singer Jackie Wilson’s last night on stage and unveil a concert that takes you back in time when R&B was pulsing in the ether.
“It’s really one man and one mic, really playing to Jackie Wilson’s story and music,” said Taylor Griggs, the research production coordinator for Cultural Arts and Diversity (CAD). “It’s the combination of the vulnerability of Jackie Wilson during his last concert in combination with the liveliness the heartfelt music that made the show what it was — it gave Jackie Wilson’s last day a lot of life.”
Griggs was in charge of contacting Chester Gregory’s agent to bring the show to UC Santa Cruz. Griggs holds “The Eve of Jackie” in high reverence, as it’s one of the few opportunities students have to experience shows like these.
CAD Director Don Williams made the connection and with the help of measure 49 — a $5.25 quarterly student fee that helps bring culturally diverse shows to the university — Williams was able to secure contract for Gregory to perform at the Stevenson Event Center. In signing the signing the contract, CAD ensured that the price of admission for “The Eve of Jackie” would be accessible to the UCSC community and Santa Cruz County. Negotiating prices with the right performers is a difficult task, though the shows are consistently high-quality performances.
“The Eve of Jackie” transports you back into the groove of the ‘60s and examines the life of a human being who dedicated his life to his passion for music. It confronts the wonder of Jackie Wilson’s life and the possible exploitation of his music. Wilson, although well-known and widely celebrated for his music, had little to his name upon his death.
Jack Stewart, CAD marketer and vice chair of the Board of Directors, detailed the ways he admired the dedication of Wilson’s performances, a dedication so intense that his heart failed on stage.
“It’s important because he was such a great performer and is still, although unknown. I asked people in my class if they liked Jackie Wilson and there was only one person who raised their hand, and she was of an older generation,” Stewart said. “Wilson is a person of color who made a huge hit, but to this day we don’t give him a lot of recognition.”
Though many students didn’t know of Wilson’s, CAD director Don Williams recommended Wilson’s music to his students in hopes that it would teach them about one of the “first legendary African-American artists” the man who came before James Brown and taught Elvis his moves.
Williams said he is excited to hear Gregory perform his favorite Jackie Wilson song, “Lonely Teardrops.”
“He is an incredible performer — a very gifted singer and a mover and a shaker,” Williams said. “He has a great personality. He studied this character extremely well.”
Through the representation of Jackie Wilson’s life, students can witness history unfold onstage and analyze the message behind the performer’s life and the way music has been adopted, appropriated and altered.
“It has a critical message in terms of getting a sense of what Jackie Wilson’s life is about. It’s a story of his last night on stage,” Williams said. “When you think past that, you have to ask, ‘What happened to Jackie Wilson?’”