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Michael Jackson: Beyond Individual Talent


Michael Jackson: Beyond Individual Talent

Much has been said about Michael Jackson’s talent and deservedly so.  Anyone who has witnessed Michael Jackson from when he exploded unto the scene as part of the Jackson 5, later the Jacksons, and   as a solo artist, would attest to his greatness as a singer, dancer, recording artist as well as a creator of music videos.

The praise bestowed upon Michael demonstrates the great admiration the world has of his gifts. But especially after news of his passing, many have overlooked how this great talent came to be.

The Role of Family & The Development of Michael Jackson’s Talent

Often maligned and misunderstood the Black family has served as an anchor for Black survival, serving as the conduit of transmission of material wealth (i.e. land), values as well as culture. The roots of Michael’s family are not found in the star lit lights of Los Angeles, California or the landscape of Gary, Indiana but in the fabric of their values such as discipline and a strong work ethic as seen with Michael’s parents.

Both of Jackson’s parents hailed from the South. Katherine Jackson was born May 4, 1930 in Alabama, while Joseph Jackson was born in Arkansas, on July 26, 1929. Katherine and Joseph Jackson were married in 1949 and in their first 16 years of marriage produced ten children. Unfortunately, on March 12, 1957, when giving birth to twins Brandon and Marlon; Brandon was born still born and Marlon survived.

While both Katherine and Joseph Jackson did not live in the aforementioned places of birth past 4 and 12 years respectively, they appeared to have retained the basic values of African-Americans during that period as evidenced by the length of their marriage, despite their many challenges as well as the size, closeness and musical development of their family.  The contribution of Joseph Jackson to the cultivation of the music talent of the Jackson family has been highly publicized but it was both parents who were instrumental in making the Jacksons “the first family of R&B”. 

Joseph Jackson’s talents included boxing and music. He played guitar as a member of the singing group the Falcons during the 1950s. His brother Luther was also part of that group. After not securing a record deal, Joseph Jackson would give up his personal dreams to work full time as a crane operator at US Steel and support his family.  Upon discovering son Tito playing with his guitar, Joseph began to pay attention to the musical talents of the children in the family.  In 1963, he formed the first incarnation of the Jacksons consisting of the trio Jackie, Jermaine and Tito.  By 1965, the group expanded to five with the addition of Marlon and Michael and in 1966 was renamed the Jackson 5.

Joseph Jackson as it has been often stated was a strict disciplinarian. He conducted long and intense rehearsals with his children, particularly the boys.  The Jackson 5 under the watchful eye of Joseph Jackson, gained notoriety on the R&B circuit and eventually went to New York to perform at the Apollo Theatre. The Jackson 5 would win Apollo’s amateur night competition and based upon that success, they would later receive a record contract from Motown. The rest they say is history. The Jackson 5, would be the first and so far the only group to score four straight number one singles from their first album.

 The earnings Joseph Jackson made as manager enabled the family to move out of Gary, Indiana to Encino, California. Katherine Jackson’s role in the development of the Jackson musical legacy is not as well known as her husband’s and thus is overlooked. But she was, just as if not, more important to the development of the Jackson family legacy.

Declared by Essence magazine as “Mother of the Year” in 1985, Katherine Jackson has been an integral part of the Jackson’s family musical success. A devout Jehovah Witness, Katherine provided another expression of strict discipline for her children as a result of her faith.  Unknown to many, Katherine was  a pianist and a singer. She was credited by her children for encouraging their interest and participation in musical activities. Michael Jackson acknowledged that he received his musical gifts from his mother.

 Katherine served a role as the group’s designer making suits for her five eldest sons to wear during their “lengthy rides to predominantly black venues where they mostly performed”. Her role was more limited after the Jackson 5 signed with Motown Records in 1968.

We see that from both parents, Michael Jackson received discipline, structure and an appreciation of music. As the younger sibling of a large family, Michael was given examples to emulate as well as support to harness his creative abilities. He did not emerge out of a vacuum.  Michael Jackson is a by product of Black institutions, beginning with his family.  With both parents being musicians, his father a guitar player and band member of the short lived Falcons as well as his mother being a singer and pianist, we see the foundation that Michael and his siblings were given.

The emotional temperaments of Michael’s parents were different and in many ways complimentary. We see both strands in the work of Michael Jackson.

 Joseph Jackson offered his family the strict disciplinarian approach forged from experiences as a boxer, seeing his own parents’ divorce, knowledge of the music industry gained from pursuing unsuccessfully a career as a performer and working at US Steel as a crane operator.  While Katherine Jackson offered a strict disciplinary model that was more internal and expressive coming from her devout religious background as well as the discipline required to play the piano.

The drive, ambition and impulse to be a perfectionist in many ways could be related to the intense rehearsal sessions that Joseph Jackson led. The business acumen which Michael displayed can be credited to his observation of his father manage the family’s affairs during the early stages of their career.

While his universal idealism and concern for the global community can be traced among other sources to his mother and the Jehovah Witness religion, whose tenets include no saluting of the flag of any country or service in the military. Thus we see that Michael was exposed to the issues of service to others and commitment to God within the walls of his household as well as the issues of contemporary life that captured the public’s imagination such as the Civil Rights movement or world hunger.

©VisionThought 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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