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The Jackson 5 Biography

Last updated: 03/11/2013 04:21:00 PM

The Jackson 5-photo
Inductees: Jackie Jackson (vocals; born May 14, 1951), Jermaine Jackson (vocals; born December 11, 1954), Marlon Jackson (vocals; born March 12, 1957), Michael Jackson (vocals; born August 29, 1958), Tito Jackson (vocals; born October 15, 1953)

In the words of Berry Gordy, founder and driving force behind Motown, the Jackson 5 were "the last big stars to come rolling off my assembly line." After performing for much of the decade in and around their native Indiana, the Jackson 5 found their way to Detroit's hitmaking Motown Records at the tail end of the Sixties. Led by 11-year-old Michael Jackson-who was joined by brothers Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie-the Jackson 5 were young, fresh and full of energy. The group made music-business history when their first four singles shot to #1 in 1970. That record-breaking string of 45s-"I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save" and "I'll Be There"-endeared the hard-working Jackson's to a public that found their soulful singing and tight choreography an entertaining diversion from all the social and political cataclysms weighing upon the country.

Like all of Motown's acts, the Jackson 5's popularity transcended race. Everyone loved the Jackson Five, especially the cherubic, charismatic Michael. The reasons for their out-of-the-box success boiled down to one simple truth: "The singing and the songs make us happy," wrote soul-music biographer David Ritz. "They are moments of incandescent beauty-young, wildly optimistic."

The Jackson 5 rose from humble circumstances in Gary, Indiana. They were the eldest sons in a family of nine children born to steelworker Joe Jackson and his wife Katherine. When Joe saw that his charges had talent, he devoted himself to molding them into a well-rehearsed group that covered Motown and other soul/R&B hits of the day. When they formed in 1964, Michael Jackson was all of six years old, but his natural gift for singing, dancing and entertaining belied his youth. They performed at talent shows and as opening acts on bills that took them to places like Harlem's Apollo Theater, where they won an amateur-night competition in 1967.

All the while, Michael Jackson studied the moves of the masters: their onstage choreography, how they phrased a song, the way they worked a crowd. His heroes and tutors included James Brown, Sam and Dave, Jack Wilson, Etta James and his older brother, Jermaine, who himself was a disciple of Marvin Gaye. The Jackson 5 also absorbed a considerable measure of influence from another "family" act: the prototypical soul/funk crossover band Sly and the Family Stone.

The Jackson 5 wound up at Motown through the importunings of Bobby Taylor, a performer and producer who caught their act at Chicago's Regal nightclub. They were a road-tested act even then, having for years worked the "chitlin' circuit" of black nightclubs as far east as Washington D.C. At Motown, Berry Gordy took a hands-on interest in the group. With Diana Ross having left the Supremes and Gordy having relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles, the Jackson 5 were poised to inherit the torch and carry Motown's success forward into the Seventies. Much of the Jackson 5's early repertoire was written, rehearsed and recorded in California under Gordy's tutelage.

They were matched with "the Corporation," a Motown production team groomed to replace the recently departed Holland-Dozier-Holland. In January 1970, their first production for the Jackson 5, "I Want You Back," reached #1 on the pop and R&B charts. Its followup, "ABC," unseated the Beatles' "Let It Be" from the top position that April. Their youthful, soulful sound got dubbed "bubblegum soul." By the summer of 1970, the Jackson 5 were headlining 20,000-seat venues, and Jacksonmania was in full swing. "I'll Be There," their fourth #1 single in a row and biggest hit, remained on top for five weeks in the fall of 1970. They conquered television as well as radio, appearing regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show in the early Seventies and on their own CBS summer variety show in 1976. An animated Saturday-morning cartoon show based on the musical adventures of the Jackson 5 enhanced their appeal with younger fans.

Their tenure at Motown continued until the mid-Seventies, by which time they'd begun to turn their attention to the emerging disco movement with hits like "Dancing Machine" (#2, 1974). Moving to Epic, the Jackson 5 shortened their name to the Jackson's. Their first two albums for the new label, The Jackson's and Goin' Places, were produced by Philadelphia R&B masters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. The Jackson's entered another successful phase in their career with a trio of contemporary dance-oriented R&B albums-Destiny (1978), Triumph (1980) and Victory (1984)-which were produced and largely written by the increasingly autonomous group. Their highly publicized 1984 Victory tour turned out to be the last Jacksons project to include brother Michael, who had by then achieved solo superstardom.

Clan patriarch Joe Jackson and boxing promoter Don King were among the co-promoters of the Victory tour, which was sponsored by Pepsi. Controversy ensued when ticket prices were fixed at a then-astronomical $30. Michael Jackson thereupon announced that he would donate his share of the proceeds to charity. In 1989, the Jackson's (sans Michael) released their seventh Epic album, 2300 Jackson Street, whose title referred to the street address in Gary, Indiana, where the family's incredible musical saga began.


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