Jimmy Soul (born James Louis McCleese; August 24, 1942 – June 25, 1988) was an American vocalist. He is best remembered for his 1963 number one hit, "If You Wanna Be Happy."

Jimmy Soul
Jimmy soul.jpg
Background information
Birth nameJames Louis McCleese
Born(1942-08-24)August 24, 1942
Weldon, North Carolina, United States
DiedJune 25, 1988(1988-06-25) (aged 45)
Spring Valley, New York, United States
GenresPop, soul


Born in Weldon, North Carolina,[1] he became a preacher at the age of seven[2] and performed gospel music as a teenager. He acquired his performing name, "Soul," from his congregation.[3]

Soul took to the road and toured the southern United States as a member of various gospel groups. During this time he became popular around the Norfolk, Virginia area.[3] It was here that Soul was scouted by Frank Guida and recruited to sing songs handpicked for one of Guida's other hit artists, Gary U.S. Bonds.[4]


Soul had two top-40 hit singles, both of which were refused by Bonds.[4] They were on the SPQR label, distributed by London Records. The first was "Twistin' Matilda", which peaked at No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending May 26, 1962, while peaking three weeks later at No. 20 on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart.[5] The other was "If You Wanna Be Happy", which was the No. 1 hit for the week ending May 18, 1963.[4][5] The latter, which also hit No. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles chart, was based on the calypso "Ugly Woman," by Roaring Lion.

"If You Wanna Be Happy" sold over one million records, earning gold disc status.[6] It had two spells in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at #39 (1963) and #68 (1991) respectively.[7]

Later yearsEdit

Soul's next single, "Treat 'Em Tough", peaked at No. 8 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100; his last appearance on a Billboard chart. After unsuccessfully trying to follow up the success of those songs with one more album, Soul gave up his career as a musician and joined the United States Army.

Later in life, Soul fell into a drug habit, and on January 9, 1986, was sentenced to four and a half to nine years in prison as a second felony offender, convicted of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. The sentence was affirmed upon appeals on October 26, 1987, and March 22, 1988.

Soul died of a heart attack on June 25, 1988, aged 45.[1]


  1. ^ a b Thedeadrockstarsclub.com Accessed March 2010
  2. ^ "ArtistDirect.com: Jimmy Soul Biography" Accessed November 2012
  3. ^ a b Jimmy Soul Biography", Oldies.com, Accessed November 2012
  4. ^ a b c Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. p. 417. ISBN 0-7535-0149-X.
  5. ^ a b https://www.billboard.com/artist/jimmy-soul/chart-history/hot-100
  6. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 166. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  7. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 515. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.

External linksEdit