Life and work
Wilkins learned as a child the violin and piano before switching to the saxophone. He studied at Wilberforce University in Ohio and music played during military service in the U.S. Navy in a band with Willie Smith. He had his first professional engagements with the Jeter - Pillars Orchestra and George Hudson, before he was a member of Earl Hines ' band in 1948.
In 1951, he was ( together with his younger brother Jimmy Wilkins ) on the recommendation of Clark Terry Member of Count Basie's band, where he worked as an arranger and composer. Inter alia he worked for them the One O'Clock Jump and Every Day I Have The Blues. In 1955, he parted with Basie, to act as a composer and saxophonist in Dizzy Gillespie's band. In 1956, he worked for Big Joe Turner (Boss of the Blues ); 1958 to 1960 he worked with the band of Harry James.
In the 1960s, Wilkins ' career came due to drug problems to a halt. In the late 1960s he returned to the music scene back as the musical director of Clark Terry's Big BAD band. In 1975 he composed the choral suite Four Black Immortals, which was performed in the Town Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York. In the late 1970s he undertook a tour of Europe with Clark Terry.
1980 Wilkins decided to go all the way to Europe and settled in Copenhagen. There he founded the Ernie Wilkins ' Almost Big Band, he recorded four albums with the. In addition, he also worked with the DR Big Band, with which he toured through Great Britain undertook in 1991 and the album Suite for Jazz grossed band, and with musicians such as Earl Hines, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne and Quincy Jones. After a stroke, he retired from the music business.