Last member of Silhouettes dies

Rev. John 'Bootsie' Wilson battled cancer

COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- The Rev. John "Bootsie" Wilson, a former lead singer and last surviving member of the soul group the Silhouettes, has died. He was 69.

Wilson died Sept. 21 at his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina, 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 No. 1 for 13 consecutive weeks. It was among the first rhythm and blues songs to cross over and become No. 1 on the pop charts.

"They called 'Get a Job' the national anthem of doo-wop. It spearheaded a whole subgenre of doo-wop, where the bass singer was the star," said Elaine Lewis, the widow of original member Richard Lewis, who wrote the song.

Ten years later, Wilson recorded the song with the group, re-branded as the New Silhouettes, on the album, "The Original and New Silhouettes -- '58/68 Get A Job."

Other notable recordings by the group with 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 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, New Jersey.

"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. He had a marvelous voice," said Elaine Lewis, 62.

Wilson and Richard Lewis were friends before Wilson officially joined the Silhouettes. He sang with Lewis in 1957 and with the group at other times, Wilson told Elaine Lewis in an interview in February published online.

Elaine Lewis said Wilson cried when he listened to the old songs during a visit to her Philadelphia home.

"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 Web site maintained by her daughter, Shana Lewis, calls Wilson a lost hero of 1960s soul music.

"The group didn't get the promotion and the push they deserved," Elaine Lewis said.

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, his wife said.

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, how he was the lead singer and the shows he was on," she said.

John Wilson planned to go to London in March to celebrate how popular "Get A Job" was in England, but his wife said he was too ill to make the trip.

"It's an end of an era. The Silhouettes were one of the greatest vocal groups of all time," said Horner, who interviewed Wilson in April. Even though Wilson wasn't on the initial recording of "Get a Job," he added, "he was a big part of Silhouettes history. It's sad to realize The Silhouettes are gone now."

Wilson's funeral was Saturday.