Wilder was born into a musical family led by his father Curtis, a bassist and bandleader in Philadelphia. Wilder’s first performances took place on the radio program, “Parisian Tailor’s Colored Kiddies of the Air.” He and the other young musicians were backed up by such illustrious bands as Duke Ellington‘s and Louis Armstrong‘s that were also then playing at the Lincoln Theater. Wilder studied at the Mastbaum School of Music in Philadelphia, but turned to jazz when he felt that there was little future for an African-American classical musician. At the age of 19, Wilder joined his first touring big band, Les Hite’s band.
Wilder was one of the first thousand African Americans to serve in the Marines during World War II. He worked first in Special Weapons and eventually became Assistant Bandmaster at the headquarters’ band. Following the war during the 1940s and early 1950s, he played in the orchestras of Jimmie Lunceford, Herbie Fields, Sam Donahue, Lucky Millinder, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, and finally with the Count BasieOrchestra.