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Influences On The Life of Michael Jackson:Beyond Individual Talent Part II


The major factors in the development of Michael Jackson’s talent  were his family, the culture of Black America and Motown Records. In Beyond Individual Talent:Part I, we examined the role of Michael Jackson’s family on the development of his talent. Our attention will now turn to the culture of Black America  and Motown Records. In this analysis we will also identify the consistent presence of symbols and  particular numerological numbers which appear in the life of  Michael Joseph Jackson a.k.a. “The King of Pop”.

Black Culture

The aspect of Black Culture that will be focused on in this writing is music. We can see the impact on Michael Jackson’s performance style and overall genius through the lens of Black icons which had great influence on him. While all aspects of the world’s popular culture are visible in the creative output of Jackson,  certain  icons bear witness to their impact on the creative spirit of  the “greatest entertainer of all time”.

The  icons of Black Culture which had great influence on MJ were Jackie Wilson and James Brown.  Michael used the world stage to voice his respect and admiration of these two giants. This is not to imply in any way that Jackie Wilson and James Brown were the only musical influences on Michael Jackson. However it is these two which Jackson seemed to identify with the most and drew  inspiration from their body of work.

The two main things Michael has been known for- dancing and showmanship- were in large part due to his awareness of the legacy of the above mentioned superstars.

Of Jackie Wilson, MJ stated when receving the 1984 Grammy for best album of the year for  the record setting Thriller: 

” In the entertainment business, there are leaders and followers. And I just want to say I think Jackie Wilson was a wonderful entertainer. “

Jackson’s tribute to the Godfather of Soul James Brown on BET  in 2003 was a watershed moment in pop culture history. Michael also honored James Brown by returning from self-imposed exile in Bahrain, to pay homage in person to the one he referred to as “the master” at Brown’s public funeral on December 30,2006.

Jackson when speaking at the homegoing ceremony for James Brown on the influence that Brown had on him said:

“Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the  master at work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. I had never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.”

The other major figure in Black America, which had influence on Michael Jackson was Little Richard. Jackson, according to Dick Gregory bought the rights to Little Richard’s music and returned the music catalog to Little Richard. This if true would demonstrate the respect MJ had for the legacy of Little Richard.

The influence of  Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Little Richard on Michael Jackson is evidenced by statements and actions by Jackson that clearly show his respect for the forerunners of the Black popular musical tradition.

It is this awareness of this tradition which made him a unique and dynamic performer at such a young age.  This knowledge and attachment to the musical legacy of giants such as Wilson, Brown and Little Richard  as well as being supported by his family in nurturing his gifts; would serve as the foundation upon which Motown Records would take to the next level.

Motown Records

There is no discussion about Motown Records without mentioning its founder Berry Gordy. (Berry Gordy who is related to President Jimmy Carter and Elvis Presley by way of his great- great- grandfather Thomas Gordy. Thomas Gordy who was white and fathered Berry Gordy’s grandfather Berry Gordy I from a union with a Black woman in Georgia.)

Berry Gordy is an instrumental figure in the development of MJ’s talent and business acumen. Gordy was in many ways another father figure for Michael for Gordy and Joseph  shared many similar traits, which will be examined later in another article.

What Gordy brought to the table was a structured environment with dedicated and talented producers, musicians, artists as well as songwriters which provided MJ with a “second family” so to speak that also nurtured his unique gifts and abilities.  Gordy, a songwriter for one of  Michael Jackson’s idol Jackie Wilson, understood the music industry. He took profits from his stint as a songwriter for Wilson and along with a family loan to start his own music company.

Gordy demonstrated the knack of putting groups together to produce great work. His example as a business man was also part of the ambiance that Michael absorbed. For Michael Jackson, having strong Black men manage his career in the early stages appears to have played a role in his savvy and shrewd business acquistions later on in his adult life.

Contrary to Motown created mythology, it was Gladys Knight not Diana Ross who first brought Michael and his brothers to the attention of  Motown Records.  Knight after watching the Jackson 5 perform during as the opening act for the Gladys Knight & the Pips and other Motown acts in 1968 at Chicago’s The Guys and Gals Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant communicated her positive impressions of the group to Motown. Bobby Taylor of Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers also saw the potential in the Jackson 5 and brought them to Detroit, where they along with their father stayed on the floor at his apartment. Taylor and Suzanne de Passe collaborated to arrange for the group to audition for Motown executives.

Diana Ross would later have influence on Michael, especially in his singing style. The fact that she was mentioned in his will as caretaker of his children, in the event his mother was unable to serve in that role is a testament to the depth of their relationship.

There are many dimensions to the greatness of Michael Jackson.  The primary important elements are  his family, Black Culture and the black record company Motown. When we look at Michael Jackson we are not just looking at an individual but a byproduct of the collective genius of Black America not just a talented individual.

©VisionThought 2009. All Rights Reserved.

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