Susan Whitall

Selected Works


"Deftly explores the mystery and tragedy of his life and death..." -- New Orleans Times-Picayune, "Best Music Books of 2011."

"(Four stars) Superb...a remarkable story that Whitall details with exceptional clarity." -- Mojo

"As fast paced, enchanting and gritty as Willie John's own life and his meteroic climb to the top of the music charts. -- Bill Castanier, Lansing City Pulse

"A well-written biography of one of the greatest R&B singers to come out of Detroit." -- New York Amsterdam News

"Finally justice is served and Little Willie John gets his story told. Arguably one of the genre's greatest voices, this no frills account of his fast and fantastic life will enlighten those who are not familiar and thrill those who are." -- Bernie Taupin, "American Roots Radio," Sirius XM

"Fever is a reminder that some of the last century’s most beautiful, heartfelt, and danceable music was produced in the context of struggles against poverty, state-supported violence, racial segregation, and commercial exploitation." - Los Angeles Review of Books

"A heartfelt, in-depth portrait of one of rhythm & blues' most tragically overlooked vocal stars. Susan Whitall once again reminds us why she is one of the most passionate and knowledgeable curators of Detroit music." -- Allan Slutsky, author of "Standing in the Shadows of Motown."

Music biography
"Women of Motown digs beneath the veneer of the Motown publicity machine..."
--Scott Westerman,

“...Motown buffs will relish hearing a few more voices add to the lore: the rise and drawn-out demise of Mary Wells; on the road with Diana Ross; the sequined dresses; the rivalries, the romances; the summer 'Dancing in the Street' was banned in some cities for inciting riots.”
--Paige Smoron, The Chicago Sun-Times

Fever: The Fast Life and Mysterious Death of Little Willie John, and the Birth of Soul

With hits like the original, 1956 version of "Fever," "Need Your Love So Bad," "Talk to Me, Talk to Me," "Sleep," and "Leave My Kitten Alone," it appeared that Little Willie John had achieved R&B immortality in just a few short years of fame.
And yet, while he is still revered by musicians like Stevie Wonder and avid record collectors, because he died young, his star has faded over the years.
Born in Arkansas and raised from the age of three in Detroit, Willie was a polished, preternaturally gifted singer from his childhood days in the rough north end.
James Brown was his opening act at the famed Apollo Theater, and had to pull every trick in the book to outshine the headliner, to no avail. Brown never forgot him. Willie was one of the great Marvin Gaye's three greatest vocal influences, and his inimitable voice haunts friends like B.B. King to this day.
In the 1950's and early '60s, his voice an early harbinger of what we now call soul. Elvis Presley recorded "She Thinks I Still Care" after being knocked out by Little Willie John's version, and the Beatles' take on his "Leave My Kitten Alone" became one of their most-bootlegged songs.
"Fever" tells the dramatic, and ultimately tragic, story of Little Willie John.


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