Michael's Jackson Five Years
Michael Jackson got his start in a group called The Jackson 5 (later shortened to The Jacksons), a genre-defining musical phenomenon that was born in the 1960s. Hailing from Gary, Indiana, The Jackson 5 featured Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael Jackson. They grew to superstar status very quickly, thanks to a combination of unprecedented childhood talent and a unique blend of pop, R&B, and soul musical genres.
Michael Jackson was the seventh of nine children in the Jackson family, born in Gary, Indiana on August 29, 1958. He became a lead singer and frontman of The Jackson 5 despite his young age of 9 years old, and despite the fact that he had three older brothers in the group. Michael Jackson had a precocious and fiery stage presence, boasting confidence and impressive dance moves, looks, and of course, vocals. His voice at age 11 intrigued both kids his age and adults as well. He was a compelling young singer in the Jackson 5, long before he wowed audiences as an adult solo artist.
The Jackson 5 was formed under the watchful eye of Joseph Jackson, their father and manager. At the age of 8, Michael Jackson had already exhibited strong talent in performing, and once he was added to the group, they began to win contests and started playing venues throughout Indiana and Chicago. Their first public performance was in 1964 at the local nightclub, Mr. Lucky’s. They also played at adult strip clubs, which is one example of the way Joseph Jackson was said to exploit his children’s talents for money, rather than looking out for their best interests. This criticism extended to Michael Jackson’s adult life.
The group was signed to the local Steeltown Records label in 1967, and they celebrated regional hits such as “Big Boy” and “We Don’t Have To Be Over 21 (To Be In Love).” Later that year, they managed to attract the attention of Gladys Knight (of The Pips fame), an artist for the Motown record label, after winning a famous Amateur Night competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. Gladys Knight, impressed with The Jackson 5, brought them to the attention of Motown label owner Berry Gordy. At the time, Motown Records was home to a number of very famous and successful musical acts, many of which were considered to be inspirations for the young members of The Jackson 5, such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, James Brown, The Temptations, etc.
At first, Berry Gordy was reluctant to sign another child act to Motown Records because he had a teenage Stevie Wonder already. Once he had seen a videotape of the group performing James Brown’s hit “I Got The Feelin’,” any reluctance he had vanished. He quickly struck a deal with their old Steeltown label and signed The Jackson 5 to Motown Records in early 1969. Work quickly began on the singles that would launch all the Jackson children to superstardom.
For their first singles, a team of songwriters and producers known as The Corporation guided the success of The Jackson 5. In addition, though the children played their instruments at live concerts, the label had a famous in-house studio band called The Funk Brothers record the instrumentals of The Jackson 5’s singles, while later it was done by members of The Wrecking Crew. This eventually led to The Jackson 5’s departure from the Motown label .
Michael Jackson’s life was unfortunately characterized by a series of scandals and half-truths. Among these was the lie that Michael was only 9 when he was in fact 11, a rumor propagated by Motown’s public relations team to make Michael seem even cuter and more of a prodigy. Future scandals were based on Michael’s eccentric, enigmatic behavior and off-stage persona.
Michael Jackson’s years in The Jackson 5 were very demanding and rigorous. Michael claimed that he would be tutored for 3 hours a day as his schooling, and then he would be forced by his father to practice dancing and singing until bedtime. Michael’s hectic schedule was not the only aspect of his childhood that pushed him to the brink. He later admitted on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1993 that he was both physically and emotionally abused by his father.
Joe’s emotional abuse of Michael took the form of insults, such as his dig that Michael’s nose was too big, and of name-calling; this is largely considered to be the reason why Michael Jackson became a perfectionist. In fact, Michael even credited his father as being one of the main reasons why he was a success, because he learned to practice until he could not get any better.
As for physical abuse and beatings, Michael was forced to endure constant rehearsals and practice sessions, even though he was just a child. During at least one practice, Joe sat in a chair with a belt at the ready, and “if you didn’t do it the right way, he would tear you up”, Michael recalled. In addition to belt whippings, Joe physically beat Michael as well. In one instance, Marlon Jackson recalled his father holding Michael upside down by one leg and beating him repeatedly on the back and buttocks with his hand.
This strict discipline and abuse may also have caused Michael to seek approval and love elsewhere. While his father was dominant and abusive, the world-at-large couldn’t get enough of Michael Jackson. If he constructed fantastic albums and perfected innovative dance moves, Michael could win the affections of fans everywhere. There is little doubt that Michael’s troubled childhood followed him into his adult life, prompting his unprecedented purchase of the Neverland Ranch and his later scandals with young children.
The Jackson 5 was a phenomenon, but Michael Jackson was a phenomenon even among them. His precocity and swagger impressed audiences and vaulted him into the most successful solo career the world has ever seen, including the release of the best-selling album ever, Thriller. Michael’s experience in The Jackson 5 carried him to the kind of celebrity most people can only imagine.