Long Live the King: Remembering Michael Jackson
It’s hard to believe that’s it’s been one year since the death of the legendary Michael Jackson. In a truly tragic ending to a prolific life, the 50-year-old died just one month before he was to mount his comeback tour. Jackson began his career as the baby-faced lead singer of the Jackson 5, and later went on to take the throne as the King of Pop and the world record holder for the top-selling album of all time, ‘Thriller.’ Whether it was his dance moves, visionary musical talent or his incredibly giving heart, Jackson blazed the trail for artists to come and dared to step outside musical boundaries to create greatness. In honor of his life and career, we here at The BoomBox wanted to take a look back at the boy who would be king. With a musical career spanning over 30 years, to his shocking death, his is a story of stardom that other musicians can only dream to come close to.
Jackson was born in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, 1958. He was the eighth of 10 children, one of whom died shortly after birth. His father, Joseph, worked at a local steel mill, while his mother, Katherine, was a homemaker. Joseph, a former singer in an R&B group called the Falcons, helped his sons cultivate their musical talent, forming a group then called the Jackson Brothers. At 8 years old, Michael began sharing lead vocals with his older brother Jermaine. They later renamed the group the Jackson 5 and began touring around the country. Although Michael was just a youngster, his star presence was evident and he eventually took over the position as the group’s lead singer.
Throughout the years, the Jackson 5 toured the country, winning major talent shows and recorded songs under Steeltown Records. In 1968, the boys signed a deal with the famed label Motown Records, home to some of the biggest names in R&B and soul music, like the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations. The Jackson 5 quickly made their mark at the label with their first four singles — ‘I Want You Back,’ ‘ABC,’ ‘The Love You Save’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ — all peaking atop the Billboard Hot 100 charts.
As time went on, it became more and more evident that Michael was the standout performer in the group, and he began venturing out to record solo, including the track ‘Ben’ for the 1972 film of the same name. Meanwhile, disco music was growing in popularity and the group tried its hand at the genre, releasing ‘Dancing Machine’ and ‘I Am Love’ before leaving Motown in 1975 to sign with Epic Records, renaming themselves the Jacksons. But it wasn’t long before Michael split from his brothers to fully embark on a solo career. He released ‘Off the Wall’ in 1979, but it wasn’t until the 1982 release of ‘Thriller’ that the industry — and the world — took notice. Jackson reteamed with producer Quincy Jones to work on the record that would go on to solidify his place in music history. “Back then, Michael was listening,” Jones said. “Everybody was telling him he could not be any bigger. I said, ‘We’ll see.’”
With his career on the fast track, Jackson became the biggest name in pop music, able to bring his legions of fans to tears at the mere sight of his sparkly white glove. In 1983, the “gloved one” reunited with his brothers for a performance on the Motown Records anniversary special ‘Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever.’ Wearing what he would later reveal was his mother’s black sequined jacket, the 24-year-old took to the stage to perform his hit ‘Billie Jean,’ thrilling the audience and the estimated 47 million home viewers by launching into the moonwalk, his take on the dance move the Back Slide, which was taught to him by Shalamar member Jeffrey Daniel.
By the end of the decade, Jackson pretty much ruled all things music, despite releasing only two albums from 1982 to 1989. He won 15 Grammy awards, including the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 26 American Music Awards and countless other accolades. He wrote and recorded the charity single ‘We Are the World’ with Jones and Lionel Richie, gathering more than 20 other famous musicians to sing on the recording. Jackson’s philanthropic work and support of antidrug campaigns landed him an invitation to the White House to receive an award from President Ronald Reagan. Jackson also began a noticeable physical transformation following an accident on the set of a Pepsi commercial where his hair caught on fire. He suffered second and third degree burns to his scalp and underwent treatment to hide his scars, and got his second of what many believe would turn into several nose jobs. The soda company settled with Jackson for $1.5 million, which he donated to the Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, Calif. It was renamed the Michael Jackson Burn Center following his contribution.
As the start of the 1990s rolled around, the now 33-year-old dropped his eighth studio album, ‘Dangerous,’ produced by Jones and Teddy Riley. He renewed his record deal with Sony for a record-breaking $100 million. The album spawned hits like the title track, ‘Remember the Time,’ ‘Black or White’ and ‘Heal the World.’ In 1992 Jackson, founded the Heal the World Foundation for underprivileged children, where he made global donations and hosted trips to his sprawling Neverland Ranch, located in Santa Barbara County, Calif.
In 1993, Jackson’s career and personal image took a hit that some say he was never able to fully recover from. A 13-year-old boy accused him of molestation, a claim the superstar vehemently denied. Jackson settled with the boy for an undisclosed amount. As news of the allegations began to die down, he released two more albums, ‘HiStory: Past, Present and Future Book 1′ and ‘Invincible,’ before he found himself back on the receiving end of more molestation accusations. This time around, the King of Pop — now a father of three — took the case to trial and was acquitted of all charges. Eluding the spotlight for several years, and selling his famed Neverland Ranch, Jackson re-emerged in 2009 with news of his ‘This Is It’ tour. Produced by AEG Live, Jackson was to relink with his ‘Dangerous’ and ‘HiStory’ world tour director, Kenny Ortega, to put on his final 50 shows at London’s O2 Arena.
Unfortunately, the King of Pop would never get a chance to take the stage at the London venue. Jackson passed away on June 25, 2009 at the age of 50. Fans mourned the loss of the icon as if he was a family member. The world grieved Jackson and simultaneously celebrated his legacy with tributes and global flash mob-esque dance scenes. MJ will be missed.