Who is Wilson Pickett who sang Land Of A Thousand Dances?

Who is Wilson Pickett who sang Land Of A Thousand Dances?

December 11, 2022

Alabama soulman behind Land Of A Thousand Dances song that Meghan and Harry chose for their first dance: Wilson Pickett scored dozens of hits – but alcohol and drug addiction marred his glittering career

  • The couple danced their first wedding dance to Land Of A Thousand Dances – as revealed in their latest trailer for their Netflix series
  •  Wilson Pickett was a major figure in the development of gospel and soul music
  •  His music featured prominently in the film Commitments but he died in 2006 of a heart attack at 64, after struggling with drug and alcohol addiction
  •  Must read: How much did Harry and Meghan get paid for their Netflix show?

Harry and Meghan have shared the track they chose for their first dance –  as revealed in their latest trailer for their Netflix series – at their wedding in May 2018. 

Wilson Pickett’s cover version of Land Of A Thousand Dances saw the couple take to the dancefloor in a ‘whirlwind’.

The track, first released in 1966, was just one of many hits that Pickett racked up in a  glittering – yet often controversial – career.  

Wilson, from Prattville, Alabama, was a major figure in the development of American soul music, recording more than 50 songs – including In the Midnight Hour, Mustang Sally and Don’t Knock My Love.

Yet he also had a troubled early life and went on to suffer addictions to alcohol and cocaine, dying aged 64 from a heart attack in 2006. 

Wilson Pickett, who died in 2006, was a legend in the American soul music scene with many top hits – Harry and Meghan chose his track Land of A Thousand Dances for their first dance

Some of his best known tracks were In The Midnight Hour, which he co-wrote, and Mustang Sally – used in the film The Commitments 

Harry and Meghan were seen enjoying themselves dancing to his hit classic, which has the lyrics ‘Do the Mashed Potato’ 

Wilson’s love of music grew from his early childhood. Born in 1941, he was one of 11 children but reportedly suffered an abusive childhood.

He told historian Gerri Hirshey: ‘She [my mother] used to hit me with anything, skillets, stove wood … [one time I ran away and] cried for a week. Stayed in the woods, me and my little dog.’

According to the New York Times, as a teenager he moved to Detroit, where he formed a gospel group, the Violinaires, in local churches.

But his life changed in 1961 when he was invited to join the Falcons, a rhythm and blues act that had already had acclaimed hits.

Wilson Pickett had problems throughout his life with alcohol and cocaine addiction but still made amazing songs  

Although the Falcons enjoyed modest success, Wilson then struck out on his own, recording the song If You Need Me – landing him a contract with Atlantic Records.

Influenced by recording stars such as Little Richard, he quickly cranked out a series of hits, including one of his signature hits, In the Midnight Hour. 

This song sold more than one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

He then embedded himself in the musical scene of Memphis, which was at the time a hotbeds of soul music in the South. 

The star also worked with other famous Southern musicians, such as the guitarist Steve Cropper – who co-wrote Midnight Hour – and Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers.

He also wrote Engine No. 9 and 634-5789 – and did an inimitable cover version of Land Of A Thousand Dances. 

As his reputation grew, he found himself with the nickname ‘Wicked Pickett’.

He continued to record hits such as Funky Broadway and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.

And through the 1970’s, he also covered tracks by Randy Newman, like Momma Told Me Not to Come, and Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild.

The star grew up in Alabama and started singing at Gospel churches 

The couple clearly enjoyed themselves as they performed their routine at their star-studded wedding in 2018

Harry and Meghan chose his upbeat Land Of A Thousand Dances to be their first wedding song (pictured here dancing) 

He earned a reputation as one of music’s most compelling live performers, mixing his styles of gospel and soul. 

But his career beginning to wane as disco took over in the 70s. 

On top of his musical success, he also became known for his off-stage behaviour. 

In 1991, he was arrested and charged with shouting death threats while driving, and a year later he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend. 

In 1993, he was also convicted of drunken driving and sentenced to a year in jail and five years’ probation.

Reflecting on his career years after his chart performance had begun to slip, Wilson said he had often worried about abandoning his gospel roots.

He told Rolling Stone, ‘If you leave God and go to the devil, you’re going to go to hell.

‘You see, I wanted to sing gospel, but I wanted to make me some money, too.’

In the 90s he enjoyed a considerable revival, being introduced into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

His music also featured in the 1991 hit film The Commitments, about a new Irish band seeking fame.

And he appeared in the 1998 film Blues Brothers 2000, in which he performed 634-5789 with Eddie Floyd and Jonny Lang. 

The father of four continued to record sporadically in later decades, although he had no pop hit after 1974. 

His career was also hindered by his addictions to alcohol and cocaine, while he also became increasingly violent towards his family and bandmates.

He began to suffer health problems in 2004 and reportedly decided to return to his gospel routes – although he never managed to record an album. 

Wilson died in 2006 following a heart attack – two months short of his 65th birthday. 

In total, he was nominated for five Grammy Awards during the course of his career.

And he is known as a popular composer, with his songs recorded by many other artists, including Van Halen, Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, the Grateful Dead and Genesis. 

Meghan turns to Harry as she asks the name of their wedding song. She initially calls it ‘Song of a Thousand Dances’

Meghan Markle forgot the name of her first wedding dance song with Harry in new footage released by the couple in their Netflix trailer

Viewers are treated to never-seen-before photos of the couple on the dance floor and sharing the evening with friends and family

The  trailer plays the first line of the tune – Land of a Thousand Dances, by Wilson Pickett – as it skips through a plethora of photographs from the couple’s first dance

The Duchess of Sussex danced with A-lister Elton John at her wedding in May 2018

Harry dips Meghan during their first dance as husband and wife at their 2018 wedding

Clearly, he is also loved by Meghan Markle. 

In the trailer for the final three episodes of her Netflix show, she spoke of how she loved the Land Of A Thousand Dances.

First recorded by American rhythm and blues singer Chris Kenner in 1962, Wilson made it a hit. 

The song references a number of dance styles including the Twist, the Alligator, the Mashed Potato, the Watusi and the Pony. 

Meghan gushed about the song that she played at her wedding in May 2018 – but also forgot its name. 

Meghan said: ‘That was out first dance. It was so fun. Just spinning like a whirlwind was so great.’

She added: ‘I just really wanted the music to be fun.’ 

Then she asked Harry: ‘Even our first dance. Song of a thousand dances? I always get it wrong,’ before singing a few of the lyrics such as ‘Mashed potato, do the alligator’.

Afterwards, the trailer plays the first line of Land of a Thousand Dances and skips through photographs from the dance. 

 The clip was released amid the fallout over the first three episodes. 

The couple have since received criticism over the series for attacking British institutions as they discussed their experiences – including racism. 

While some experts say the Royal Family is bracing itself for more allegations in the next three episodes, it is also thought that the series may become more upbeat. 

It is thought the couple will now want to draw a line under Megzit.  

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