Michael Jackson captivated audiences in a career that spanned over four decades. He remains a towering influence on artistes today even 12 years after his passing. The singer, who lived a very private life during his final years, suffered a cardiac arrest after overdosing on medication to help him sleep in his rented mansion at Holmby Hills in Los Angeles.
Today, the legendary King of Pop is still celebrated for his music and groundbreaking creativity that revolutionised the music industry. But long before Michael Jackson was dubbed the King of Pop, he was a newcomer music artiste who was trying to break into the music industry along with his talented older brothers. Then consisting of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael, they would become known as the Jackson 5.
And although singer Diana Ross usually gets the credit for discovering the Jackson 5 back in 1969, it was actually legendary soul singer Gladys Knight who did so. It was Knight who first brought the brothers from Gary, Indiana, to the attention of record producer and Motown founder Berry Gordy, according to a report by Courier Post.
The report said Knight had in 1967 sent the Jackson’s demo reel to Gordy, but he was not moved. Gordy gave the reel back to the brothers without a contract or a comment. Later, Ross, who was about to break away from The Supremes to start a career as a solo artist, recognized the brothers and their talent.
According to the report by Courier Post, Ross used her Motown influence to make the Jackson brothers the opening act for Diana Ross and The Supremes. She subsequently put her name on the Jackson 5’s debut album, “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.” The LP was released on the Motown label.
The Jackson brothers had begun singing together in the early 1960s after their father realized that they had musical talent. With his help, the brothers formed a group known as the Jackson Brothers by 1964. At the time Michael Jackson joined them, he was only six years old. He played congas while Marlon Jackson, just a year older than him, played tambourine.
After having won several amateur music competitions, the brothers changed their name in 1965; they became known as the Jackson Five Singing Group. They later shortened the name to the Jackson 5. Even though the brothers became a household name thanks to the December 1969 release of their first album, what really brought them to the public’s attention was their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“We knew it could be our big break and that we needed to do an A-1 job,” Marlon Jackson told the London Daily Mail in July 2015. “Before the show I remember us all going out and picking our outfits at a fashion store called First Equals, and by the day of the show we’d rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed so although we were nervous, once we hit that stage and loosened up, we did our job.”
That was their television debut and the brothers would never forget that moment as they knew how big it was to perform in front of tens of millions of viewers on the Sullivan show than to appear in strip clubs. Two years before the show, the brothers were performing in strip clubs to generate some cash after Motown had rejected them.
Marlon Jackson said that at the time of the Sullivan performance, they were so polished that they just knew they had to capture the audience. “That was our job and the audience loved it, and although we got a lot of promotion from the show we knew that was only the platform to build upon.”
In 1993 while celebrity friends of Michael Jackson were sharing their personal experiences with the singer, Knight was among them. “He was just really special,” the Empress of Soul said, recalling the first time she saw Michael Jackson perform with his brothers as the Jackson 5. “I felt something from this group of young kids.”
Knight, after first meeting Michael Jackson, got to know him more and the two would even share the same manager at one point. And although she may have placed the first phone call to Motown about him and his brothers, Knight said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, “It’s not about who discovered them.”
Knight believed that what was really important was the “network of people coming together to get these young men recognized.”
And in 2009 after Michael Jackson passed away, Knight told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith that she is “blessed” to have known the late music icon in “a different way.”
“He lived every trial, he lived every wrong decision that he made,” she said. “It’s done. It’s over. Now he needs his accolades for what he gave us, and how good he made us feel.”