Nat Tarnopol

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As Jackie Wilson's manager, Nat Tarnopol occupied an important and, in some respects, controversial place in the soul giant's career. He assumed control of Wilson's affairs almost by accident, in a combination…
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As Jackie Wilson's manager, Nat Tarnopol occupied an important and, in some respects, controversial place in the soul giant's career. He assumed control of Wilson's affairs almost by accident, in a combination of good luck (for him) and misfortune (for someone else). In the mid-'50s, Tarnopol was working for Al Green, who worked with Wilson and LaVern Baker. Just before a contract was to be signed between Wilson and Brunswick Records in 1957, Green died. Tarnopol, who had no management experience, immediately took over Green's management duties of Wilson.

The fairness of the financial arrangements Tarnopol made with Wilson, as well as the quality of the financial arrangements he set up with record companies for the singer and his overall guidance of Wilson's career, has been questioned by some fans and authorities. Tarnopol comes under repeated criticism for his work, for instance, in Tony Douglas' Jackie Wilson biography Lonely Teardrops: The Jackie Wilson Story. It's also true that Tarnopol had a lot to do just in keeping Wilson on course considering the singer's mercurial behavior, considerable personal and romantic problems, and scrapes with violence and even death (when a woman seriously shot and wounded him in the early '60s).

In Lonely Teardrops, Billy Davis, who co-wrote early Wilson hits with Berry Gordy Jr., said that Tarnopol would put songs by friends of his on the B-sides so that his chums could pick up half the royalties. He also says that Tarnopol was inadvertently responsible for the birth of Motown, as Gordy got so frustrated by the financial inequities he was dealt for his songwriting efforts that he determined to go into business for himself. Although Tarnopol's name, or names of his relatives, appear on some Wilson songwriting credits, Tony Douglas writes that in fact they were not the true composers. This was, incidentally and sadly, a practice that was fairly widespread throughout the record industry in the early days of rock & roll.

Tarnopol does deserve some credit for helping to rejuvenate the Brunswick label, and Wilson's career, by getting talented Chicago producer Carl Davis to head the A&R department (and eventually become vice president). Under Davis' lead, Brunswick became an important force in soul in the late '60s and early '70s, not only with Wilson (who faded after a brief renaissance in 1967) but also Gene Chandler, Barbara Acklin, and the Chi-Lites. The Brunswick label, sadly, ran into problems by the mid-'70s that saw several of its executives, Tarnopol included, fighting legal charges. Davis told Douglas that Tarnopol had not only treated him unfairly financially, but had tried to get Davis killed, or at least threaten him with getting killed, when Davis resigned from Brunswick.

Wilson's career came to end when he suffered a heart attack and lapsed into a coma in the mid-'70s. Tarnopol spent much of his last decade continuing to fight major legal problems before dying in 1987.