In a single word, he was truly awesome. It still has to settle in for me that Michael Jackson is dead. He is a true American icon. The words awesome and icon are used so loosely these days, but these are the perfect words to describe him. He was a genius entertainer. Energetic. Creative. Innovative. Special. He had his own beat and he created his own style from age five to 50. If you ever saw him, you will forever remember the performance. He was a miracle. He couldn't read music. He never had a dance lesson or a singing lesson. He was simply gifted. His talent was his curse as well as it was his blessing.
He grew up humbly in Gary, Indiana, with his eight brothers and sisters. His father, Joseph, nurtured the talent of all his children and molded them for the entertainment industry. Michael was his golden child. Father Joe made him rehearse and make music all of the time. And so his life followed the childhood course his father established. He missed his childhood and searched for it for the rest of his life. He crafted himself as a modern day Peter Pan who looked as if he was wandering in Wonderland. His talent grew. He was sweet and maintained a childlike innocence.
His album, Thriller, produced by Quincy Jones, is the all-time best seller. Upon the world announcement of his death, his records sold out and mp3 and iTunes sales skyrocketed. He is legendary. He crossed over. He was international. He appealed to all ages, races and genders. To salute him upon his death, they danced in the streets in London and in the Philippines, even prisoners did the "Thriller" dance routine. If Michael's music didn't make you move, you were unmovable. It's as simple as that. His productions changed the course of entertainment history and were extravaganzas with all the dazzle that you could imagine.
While you couldn't ignore his talent, you also knew something was quite different about this man-child. Everything he did became controversial. He married Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, and you wondered about it. He had three children, and you wondered how. If you have watched him over the years, you saw his medium brown skin lighten. You saw his kinky hair straighten. You saw his broad nose narrow. It did not matter. His talent superseded his weirdness. Music was his passion. Undoubtedly, he was a genius; we gave him a celebrity pass.
I came in contact with the Jackson 5 on October 1, 1971, while working with Richard Thomas and the late Pete Long (of the Apollo) on the Black Expo at the International Amphitheater with Rev. Jesse Jackson. It was the third expo, and it was the best one. At the time, black artists were limited to only a few record labels. The label was Motown. For the evening shows, we had the entire Motown family -- to include, Marvin Gaye, Gladys's Knight, The Miracles and all of the top black talent of the day. The other label was Stax Records. Berry Gordy insisted that we take this new group, the kids out of Gary. Rev. Jackson did not want the "kids" interfering with the main shows, and we went back and forth in negotiating the talent package. Saturday was reserved for the kids. We had the then-popular Sesame Street onstage Saturday morning. It was suggested that we take the kids, the Jackson 5, for Saturday afternoon. It was the perfect compromise.
Done deal. Everybody won. The truth of the matter was, we didn't know who the Jackson 5 were.
The Amphitheater had huge steel doors constructed for cattle. While the Jackson 5 was not a household name, black girls from 8 to 12 years old knew who they were. We had more concert attendees than we knew what to do with. There were about 100,000 kids, mostly screaming black young girls. The steel cattle doors were going down. We had a crowd control problem and had to call the police. We could not get the young men from Gary into the theater. We had to think quickly and had them brought backstage by an ambulance. No one knew. I will never forget the magic of the moment when they took the stage and Michael, the little boy, went to work. The crowd exploded. It was total bedlam, chaos. He worked it like a pro: high energy, the beat, and the screams. He controlled the room, and we watched in amazement. This was my introduction to Michael Jackson. Spellbinding. He was magic with his bubblegum love songs and dance steps that were his own with a spin or two from Jackie Wilson and the stage presence of James Brown. He commanded your attention even then.
I have watched him ever since. His career was amazing as it grew. He was a stellar talent and perhaps the very best America has ever produced. His pure talent overwhelmed, but he was not the average American boy. He missed the simple things of life like the walks through the park and bicycle rides. He paid a dear price for his fame and fortune but, again, his talent always overrode his strange behavior. We have lost a real treasure. He gave us joy and he took the pain.
I hope he gets his long sought after peace as he permanently rests. Michael Jackson will never be forgotten because his legacy is enormously rich. At the end of the day, I hope his works will judge his life as he moonwalks right on into heaven.
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