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Willie L. Wilson

Philanthropist, entrepreneur, and recording artist Willie Lee Wilson, grew up in impoverished conditions and rose to found multiple successful enterprises including Singsation!, the first nationally syndicated African-American owned and produced Gospel program on commercial television that broadcasts internationally on WGN-TV. Wilson is also one of the first black owners of a McDonald’s restaurant.

Wilson was born on June 16, 1948 in Gilbert, Louisiana. In 1970, Wilson began his career with McDonald’s doing custodial duties and mopping floors for $2 an hour. He got the opportunity to run the establishment when disgruntled employees walked out and was asked to stay on when the former managers returned. After working with McDonald’s for five years, he decided he wanted to open a McDonald’s himself and resolved to meet with McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc about the issue. Kroc agreed to give Wilson a McDonald’s restaurant after a discussion at an annual shareholders’ meeting in 1979, and with capital provided by South Shore Bank, Wilson took a suffering Chicago franchise and turned it around within a year. Wilson, while working at McDonald’s, earned honors attaining the Outstanding Store Award and Top Sales Performer Award.

In 1987, Wilson decided to start a television production company, Willie Wilson Productions, and in 1988, he was moved to pursue his faith after hearing the song, “What Shall I Render Unto the Lord?” at his church. He sold his McDonald’s restaurants to dedicate his life to Gospel music and started doing church solos and singing with the Norfleet Brothers. Ultimately, creating four albums: I'm So Grateful, Lord Don't Let Me Fail, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, Through It All and I'll Fly Away. The most recent album, I'll Fly Away is distributed by Universal and is available in stores throughout the United States. In 1989, Wilson’s Singsation! premiered, a half-hour weekly program of Gospel music. The shows’ history, artists, producers and writers are produced by his television production corporation. Singstation! is regularly hosted by Wilson and is available in over sixty million households every Sunday.

Still holding entrepreneurial ambitions, in 1997, Wilson founded Omar Medical Supplies, one of America’s fastest growing international medical supply companies and Gemini Electronics, a telecommunications company that provides competitive pricing to assist churches and non-profit community organizations in economic development and outreach.

Wilson is the recipient of a Doctor of Divinity degree from Mt. Carmel Theological Seminary, a Doctor of Humane Letters from Chicago Baptist Institute, Honorary Doctorate in Humanitarianism from Swisher Bible College and a Doctorate in Humanitarianism from Denver Institute of Urban Studies and Adult College. In November 2003, the Illinois State House of Representatives adopted resolution HR0491 in the 93rd General Assembly to honor Wilson’s successes as a member of the National Black McDonald's Owner Operator Association and his contributions to his community.

Wilson resides in Chicago, with his wife of twelve years. He is the father of four grown children.

Wilson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 16, 2008.

Accession Number

A2008.089

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/16/2008

Last Name

Wilson

Maker Category
Middle Name

L.

Schools

Gilbert Elementary School

Oakley School

First Name

Willie

Birth City, State, Country

Gilbert

HM ID

WIL48

Favorite Season

July, August

Sponsor

Aetna

State

Louisiana

Favorite Vacation Destination

Cairo, Egypt

Favorite Quote

Amen.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/16/1948

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

University Park

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Breakfast Foods

Short Description

Entrepreneur and gospel singer Willie L. Wilson (1948 - ) was among the first African Americans to own a McDonald's franchise, and was the creator and producer of the first nationally syndicated, black-owned gospel music television show, Singsation.

Employment

McDonald's

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

Omar, Inc

Wilson Productions

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color

Blue

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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613103">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Willie L. Wilson's interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613104">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Willie L. Wilson lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613105">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Willie L. Wilson describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613106">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Willie L. Wilson recalls the codes of conduct in the segregated South</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613107">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Willie L. Wilson remembers the killing of Jimmy Guice</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613108">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Willie L. Wilson describes his mothers' personality</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613109">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his mother's education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613110">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Willie L. Wilson describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613111">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Willie L. Wilson recalls the restrictions on sharecroppers in Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613112">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Willie L. Wilson remembers his paternal grandfather's ghost stories</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613113">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his father's education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613114">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Willie L. Wilson recalls his encounters with ghosts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613115">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Willie L. Wilson describes his relationship with his father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613116">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Willie L. Wilson recalls his father's opinion of Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613117">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Willie L. Wilson talks about how his parents met</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613118">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Willie L. Wilson describes the influence of his mother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613119">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Willie L. Wilson describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613120">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his experiences as a sharecropper</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613121">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Willie L. Wilson remembers the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Wisner, Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613122">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Willie L. Wilson remembers celebrating Easter</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613123">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Willie L. Wilson describes his early education</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613124">Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Willie L. Wilson remembers his childhood teachers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613125">Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613126">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his schooling in Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613127">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Willie L. Wilson describes the traumatic impact of his early experiences of racial discrimination</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613128">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Willie L. Wilson describes his experiences as a migrant farmworker</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613129">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Willie L. Wilson remembers moving to Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613130">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Willie L. Wilson recalls working at the piano factory in Melrose Park, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613131">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Willie L. Wilson recalls the riots of 1968 in Chicago, Illinois</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613132">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his reluctance to return to school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613133">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his awareness of the Civil Rights Movement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613134">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Willie L. Wilson talks about working for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613135">Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Willie L. Wilson describes his experiences during the riots of 1968</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613136">Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Willie L. Wilson remembers visiting his family in Louisiana</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613137">Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Willie L. Wilson recalls his start at the McDonald's Corporation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613138">Tape: 3 Story: 13 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his work ethic</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613139">Tape: 3 Story: 14 - Willie L. Wilson recalls his start as a manager</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613140">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Willie L. Wilson remembers meeting with Ray Kroc, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613141">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Willie L. Wilson recalls an altercation with his first wife</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613142">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Willie L. Wilson remembers meeting with Ray Kroc, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613143">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Willie L. Wilson recalls the challenges of staffing a McDonald's franchise</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613144">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Willie L. Wilson talks about the role of McDonald's restaurants in African American communities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613145">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Willie L. Wilson recalls his challenges as a McDonald's franchise owner</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613146">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Willie L. Wilson talks about the National Black McDonald's Operators Association</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613147">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Willie L. Wilson describes his career as a McDonald's franchisee</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613148">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Willie L. Wilson recalls his decision to sell his McDonald's franchises</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613149">Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Willie L. Wilson remembers his return to the church</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613150">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Willie L. Wilson remembers singing with the Norfleet Brothers</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613151">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Willie L. Wilson recalls the creation of 'Singsation'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613152">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Willie L. Wilson describes the talent on 'Singsation'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613153">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Willie L. Wilson remembers the popularity of 'Singsation'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613154">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Willie L. Wilson describes the production of 'Singsation'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613155">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Willie L. Wilson describes his plans for the future of 'Singsation'</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613156">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Willie L. Wilson remembers the death of his son</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613157">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his relationship with Louis Farrakhan</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613158">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Willie L. Wilson describes the operations of Omar Medical Supplies, Inc.</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613159">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Willie L. Wilson reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613160">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Willie L. Wilson reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/613161">Tape: 5 Story: 12 - Willie L. Wilson talks about his second marriage</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

4$2

DATitle
Willie L. Wilson recalls the challenges of staffing a McDonald's franchise
Willie L. Wilson recalls the creation of 'Singsation'
Transcript
Was it hard to get five of 'em [McDonald's] going?$$Not really 'cause I'm used to hard work, so hard to work to me is like no work because of my background.$$Okay, now let me guess that I--let me guess that finding the right people to work for you was probably the biggest challenge, is that true?$$Well, no, no, no not really because in the inner city you, you had, had your people could work, it, it was a find that--finding good people.$$That's what I mean finding the--$$Oh, yeah I'm sorry, I'm sorry, right, right find.$$Finding the right people.$$The right people, yeah, yeah to work.$$That are gonna work hard.$$Oh, yeah, yeah, you--that's the biggest challenge and it still is the biggest challenge today.$$There's a lot of people that need jobs but not a lot of people are gonna--$$Right and it doesn't matter what you pay 'em. I can tell you that, you only got a few. I guess you get one out of 10 million was a good worker you, you good. If you put all the people in the United States out of two hundred fifty something million people, you know you get one out of 10 million that's good. You know 'cause people have a tendency these days that they work, they got personal problems they wanna take off. I said, "Hey so we all got personal problems, but in a global economy you have to give up something you know and try to catch it on the other end you know," and so you know I got, I got personal problems like anybody else, but I know one thing, if I ain't got no money coming in and pay the bills I'm gone have more problems and personal problems than that you know. So I can't go home in eight hours, I gotta work hard you know. I have a kid, my four kids I had to sacrifice. I had to miss something, if I hadn't sacrificed to get where I am today, my kid and the people I help now wouldn't, wouldn't exist. We make the decision.$$So, so how would you do it? Did you have a way of interviewing people or a way of reading people or, or did you just have to try 'em out and see how they worked out?$$Well, well you got--you're in a pool of people that, that in a depressed area where are you gone draw from, you know? So wasn't no use in interviewing a lot, (laughter) you look at 'em and talk to 'em and then you know you gotta train 'em like your own kid. That was the mindset, and you have to train 'em about the hygiene, comb hair, show up at work, how to fill out the application, the whole nine yards. How to say, "Yes, ma'am," and "No, sir" to the customer. You know the customer get mad with you, you want--you can't just jump all over 'em you know. So your--the same customer comes in that store is of the neighborhood, so you hire people of the neighborhood. You hire people outside it ain't gone go right 'cause they wouldn't know how to intermingle and talk with the people that's in the neigh- neighborhood.$$Okay (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) That's all.$(Simultaneous) Now where did you get the idea for 'Singsation'? Now did you do that while you were still at Mc- with McDonald's [McDonald's Corporation]?$$Yep, yep, yep Mc- 'Singsation' was 19 and '89 [1989].$$Okay, so you're still with McDonald's and, and now what was--what was it your interaction with the Norfleet Brothers that gave you the idea to do 'Singsation'?$$Well, they mentioned they'd like to have a TV show but they didn't have any money to do anything with. I, I just said that if nobody would let me sing in, in the group because what happened was that, that we, we wa- go out to Chicago Gospel Fest [Chicago Gospel Music Festival] and I got to show 'Singsation' trying to put it on. I hired the first producer and then the producer who got, I had $650,000. I lost it all and the producer spent it, got me in all these union situations and then the night of the first show we're trying to tape, she said that, "Well I got--I want these choir to go on." I said well, "No, I want these quartets, the Norfleet Brothers and some other people going on too," and she said, "If you don't, if I don't put my choir on I'm gone quit and walk out." I said, "Then you know what, you need to leave, go ahead," you know. So she left and I left to produce the whole show myself and I got done trying to wrap it up, I find myself I had to borrow $250,000. 'Cause I lost all of the $650,000. Whatever I had for (unclear), I lost it all you know.$$That's a lot of money to lose.$$Yeah, I lost everything I saved and, and so I had my McDonald's and I went to Jim Fletcher [James Fletcher] at South Shore Bank [ShoreBank, Chicago, Illinois], he's, he's dead and gone now but I said I need $200,000, and he said, "Wilson [HistoryMaker Willie L. Wilson], what do you know about TV?" I said, "I don't know a thing Jim about TV but I need $200,000." I said, "I'll pay it back." I said, you know, "Take it out my McDonald's." Jim said, "I must be crazy but that's okay, you go on just, just write a check," and I wrote a check and like I got out there in less than two years I got that money back, paid it off and everything else, but the thing that got me with, with 'Singsation' was that I had felt that I was wandering around in my life then 'cause I wasn't--I was committed in a way to, to church, Christ and other ways I was not committed, so my mind was saying that Lord have blessed me with all these things today. Okay, I said, "I'm gone give enough back," so one day I went to church and I was going down to church to donate some money, and as I went into church and I sat down at Lucy Hall's church [Friendship Baptist Church] on the South Side of Chicago [Illinois] and the choir said, "What shall I render," and sang the song, "What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefit towards me" [Psalm 116:12] and like it hit me like that and I said, "I got to get busy," and that 'Singsation' became born then but now more than that but, but I said that since people don't want to let me really sing out here I'm gone buy me, get me a TV show and I'm gone sing all I want, right. That's how 'Singsation' became alive.$$Now who came up with the name 'Singsation'?$$There was a guy--first there was a 'Singsation,' it was called 'Celebrate' and the lady, and the lady tried to trick me into that. I got out of that because she wanted me to pay for the name 'Celebrate' and I didn't know nothing about TV so people putting all kind of stuff on me and then finally with another guy that I knew said well let's just call it 'Singsation' and I said you know what, I said okay get rid of that name over there and let's just call--we'll call this 'Singsation.'$$Well who's the guy that you got with that you came up with that name?$$The guy's name Potter [James Potter], oh, what's his name, oh, last name Potter, P-O-T-T-E-R. I can't think of his first name now, but he came up with the name and, and so but he had, he was supposed to have been a sales person and he was supposed to have been selling the show and turned around he couldn't sell it and he only had twelve spots and my--the show was costing me twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars a week and I only, I, I only was bringing in then like a thousand dollars, $1,200 a week.$$Now that's, you started out with WBBM, Channel 2 [WBBM-TV, Chicago, Illinois]?$$Um-hm.$$Now that's prime TV time, right?$$Yeah, um-hm, yeah, yeah.$$So you were on--what time a day were you on?$$It was seven a.m. in the morning.$$On Sunday mornings?$$On Sunday morning right, and [HistoryMaker] Johnathan Rodgers, an African American guy helped me got there and got started with it and.$$Yeah that's when Johnathan Rodgers was there, right.$$Right.$$Okay.$$So we got started and Vickie Winans was my first host and after a while later on [HistoryMaker] Merri Dee told me, said, "Wilson [HistoryMaker Willie L. Wilson], why don't you host your own show?" You know I said, "Well I guess I should because you know sometimes these peoples sometimes they busy and they can't get over here and I should be doing my own thing," and then when I had started hosting myself you know and doing it so and now 'Singsation' is twenty, twenty year going there. We just got done taping last weekend matter of fact, you know.