Wilbert Harrison


photograph of Wilbert Harrison

Wilbert Harrison (January 5, 1929 – October 26, 1994) was an American singer, pianist, guitarist, and harmonica player. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the soul and rnb artist influenced numerous musicians during his mutli-decade career and also played a role in the evolution of rock n roll music. Harrison's best known for having a Billboard #1 record in 1959 with the song "Kansas City", the track still picking up widespread airplay for years and years.

The song was was one of the first credited collaborations by the acclaimed musical team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the men writing it back in 1952. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. Harrison sang "Kansas City" for the Harlem based entrepreneur Bobby Robinson, and he recorded additional singles for the Fire and Fury record labels, which were owned and operated by Robinson.

After this spike of widespread success, Harrison continued to perform and record, exciting his many fans. However, it would be another ten years before he again cracked the Billboard Top 40 when he released "Let's Work Together (Part 1)", a track that went to #32 in early 1970 on the Billboard Hot 100. The 1970 hit version was distributed as a single through Sue Records (Sue 11) and was backed with "Let's Work Together (Part 2)". The full version of the tune, a five minute and ninteen second song that was included on the Sue Records album SSLP-8801, was simply called "Let's Work Together". An earlier version of the full song by Harrison came out in 1962 as "Let's Stick Together" (on Fury 1059 and Fury 1063).

A sign of Harrison's strong influence on soul music, cover versions of his song would be later be hits for both the American rock band Canned Heat and the British singer-songwriter Bryan Ferry. It was also recorded by country rock group The Kentucky Headhunters for the soundtrack to the Mickey Rourke film 'Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man'. Harrison had some additional success with "My Heart Is Yours", and his non-charting singles continued to be beloved among many American rnb fans. He toured for many years with a band known as 'Wilbert Harrison and The Roamers', as well as a solo act.

Harrison died of a stroke in 1994, in a Spencer, North Carolina nursing home at the age of 65. In 2001, his recording of "Kansas City" was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, and has also been named as one of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Harrison was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
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