Don Wilkerson, tenor saxophonist, was born in Moreauville, Louisiana, on July 6, 1932. Wilkerson was raised in Houston, and over the years the Bayou City remained his base of operations. He began playing alto sax in high school but later switched to tenor sax. Fellow Houstonians Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb were among his acknowledged musical influences.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s he worked and toured with a variety of other Texans—Milt Larkin, T-Bone Walker, Amos Milburn, and Charles Brown. He also recorded with Milburn and Brown. While on the West Coast he jammed with the likes of Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray.
In 1954 Wilkerson joined the Ray Charles band, and his hard-blowing tenor sax sound can be heard on several of Charles's hits from this period, including "I Got a Woman," "This Little Girl of Mine," and "Hallelujah, I Love Her So." Wilkerson's recording debut under his own name came in 1960 for Riverside Records. The title of the album, The Texas Twister, was most appropriate. Three more "soul jazz" albums followed on Blue Note Records in 1962 and 1963. Elder Don, Preach Brother!, and Shoutin' offered Wilkerson an opportunity to conjure up the sounds of his adopted state with original compositions such as "Lone Star Shuffle," "Camp Meeting," and "The Eldorado Shuffle." He even slipped in a version of Bob Wills's "San Antonio Rose." Clearly, Wilkerson never left his Southwestern musical roots far behind.
After another stint with the Ray Charles band in the early 1960s, he confined most of his activities to the Houston area. He traveled to New York City in 1982 to play on a B. B. King album, B. B. King in Blues 'n' Jazz, but he seldom recorded on his own during the last two decades of his life. Nevertheless, Wilkerson remained a vital contributor to the local music scene as mentor and friend to many musicians, including Ted Dunbar, Ed Soph, and Shelley Carrol. He died in Houston on July 18, 1986. In 2001 Blue Note Records issued The Complete Blue Note Sessions Vol. 2, which featured Wilkerson's work.