Michael Jackson

by Elma from Fredericksburg

"And my goal in life is to give to the world what I was lucky to receive: the ecstasy of divine union through my music and my dance." ~ Michael Jackson
In Younger Years Rehearsing with the Jackson 5.  (EOnline(Unknown.))
In Younger Years Rehearsing with the Jackson 5. (EOnline(Unknown.))

What is a hero? A hero can be anyone. They can be either famous or not famous. They can be personal (meaning a family or relative member), historical, or a public figure. They can either be people with jobs and duties that help to protect and save our lives such as doctors and military personnel. A hero can be anyone from the past or present. How someone decides who their personal hero is varies because nobody is everybody. We're all unique with different preferences, views, and thoughts. Someone can decide that their personal hero is a superhero, or a firefighter/police, or a cartoon character, or an artist because it all boils down to who or what they consider to be their role model. To me, a hero is someone who impacts my life in a positive way that inspires and helps me mature in character. A hero is a role model-someone who sets examples that I look up to. Who is my hero? Michael Jackson.

 

Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana to Joseph Jackson, a heavy equipment operator at a steel mill, and Katherine Jackson, a sales clerk. He was born the seventh child among his eight other siblings: Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Latoya, Jermaine, Marlon, Randy, and Janet. His family lived in a small, but humble home about the size of two garages as his parents struggled to take care of all their children. As the children grew up, Michael's father, Joseph Jackson began to realize that his sons had natural musical talents and were great performers whenever they would sing and dance to songs by Motown greats such as the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and etc. Tito could play the guitar, Jermaine could sing, and Michael was an enthusiastic dancer. Joseph decided to organize his sons into a musical group called the Jackson 5, and at the tender age of just five years old, Michael was appointed the lead singer of the group due to his infectious exuberance, energetic dancing, and incredible singing voice for a kid his age. The group played wherever they could in places such as the mall and even bars. Their big break finally came when Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records, heard reviews about them from his creative assistant, Suzanne de Passe, and decided to bring them into his studio to audition. The group decided to perform their take on James Brown's (one of Michael Jackson's music idols) "I Got the Feelin'". Right away, Michael, the group's front man, blew Berry Gordy and his staff away with not only his incredible voice, but also with the way he was able to imitate James Brown's moves with flowing ease and precise execution. The group also gave a moving rendition of Smokey Robinson's "Who's Loving You". After Michael's passing, Berry Gordy would recollect to TIME magazine that "when Michael sang that song - it's a very passionate love song - he sang it like he had been living that song for 50 years. I remember the other members had the instruments and the guitars and stuff, and they would sing a song and it'd be great and have great precision. And once the song was over, everybody would relax, and I remember Michael staring at me to see what I was going to say, whether I liked it, whether I didn't. He was very serious. He was never out of focus with what I or other people around me were thinking and doing." I think that it's amazing how even at such a small age, Michael Jackson was capable of interpreting music and dance his own unique way. More admirably is how he was able to do justification to songs that were sung by other legendary artists far older than him at this time in his age. Soon after their auditions, the Jackson 5 was signed on to Motown Records from 1963 to 1976. In 1970, they generated most notably four consecutive number one hits: "I Want You Back", "The Love You Save", "ABC", and "I'll Be There". They became very popular, especially among black teens for the black community now had stars that they could easily identify with. It seemed like the Jackson 5's fame came over night, and soon they were on tours around the world performing for thousands of fans. Whenever I think about the origins of Michael Jackson's rise to fame, it always inspires me how he basically came from nothing to many things for he was born into a poor family struggling to make ends meet, but because he was blessed with god-giving talents, he was able to use those talents to give hope and encourage other young African-American kids with dreams, too.


Michael Jackson during the Early 1980s.  (Brooklyn Vegan (Unknown.))
Michael Jackson during the Early 1980s. (Brooklyn Vegan (Unknown.))

As Michael grew into adolescence and then adulthood, he sought for a career as a solo artist. Therefore, he signed a contract with Epic Records. He also went into film and starred alongside his Motown mentor, Diana Ross, in the 1978 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz called The Wiz. It was on the set that he fatefully met Quincy Jones and they formed a partnership. Quincy would help jumpstart Michael's new career as a solo artist by helping him transition his image from the child star to a mature adult by effectively showcasing Michael's quiet, yet dramatic vocals. Together they collaborated and produced their first album, Off the Wall in 1979. This album quickly became successful for it displayed his creativity and discipline as an artist. Songs such as "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock with You" burned the charts and were heavily played hits in clubs and skating rinks. His videos for those songs also created buzz for they showed his versatility and skills as a dancer. Quincy and Michael teamed up again to produce what would become his most legendary and chart-topping album, Thriller, on November 30, 1982. Thriller, generated ground-breaking sales that broke and set many records, and most notably earned a record of eight Grammys in 1984- the most Grammys won on a single night by an album at that time. It also climbed atop Billboard magazine's sales charts for an astounding 37 weeks! His music videos showcased enthralling dance choreographies, and his most famous dance move- the magically magnificent moonwalk, became a dance craze. The moonwalk is still popular to this day after he first danced it during his Billie Jean performance on the Motown 25 television special in 1983. As a result, the Thriller album's popularity and record-breaking sales catapulted him into global superstardom and emerged him as a personality who could appeal to diverse audiences like no other artist in American music had been able to do for years. An example of this is how at the Jacksons' Victory Tour of 1984- the most anticipated tour during the early '80s, brought people of old, young, black, and white together into melting pots where everybody enjoyed themselves and each other. Michael Jackson even remarked about that atmosphere of closeness by commenting about how, "there was a part of the show on the Victory tour where I was doing this scatting theme and the audience was repeating what I said. I'd say 'Da, de, da, de' and they'd say, 'Da, de, da, de.' There've been times when I've done that and they would start stomping. And when the whole audience is doing that, it sounds like an earthquake. Oh! It's a great feeling to be able to do that with all those people - whole stadiums - and they're all doing the same thing you're doing. It's the greatest feeling in the world! You look out in the audience and see toddlers and teens and grandparents and people in their twenties and thirties. Everybody is swaying, their hands are up, and they're all singing. You ask that the house lights come on and you see their faces and you say, 'Hold hands' and they hold hands and you say, 'Stand up' or 'Clap' and they do. They're enjoying themselves and they'll do whatever you tell them. They love it and it's so beautiful - all the races of people are together doing this. At times like that I say, 'Look around you. Look at yourselves. Look. Look around you. Look at what you have done.' Oh, it's so beautiful. Very powerful. Those are great moments."

 

Michael Jackson's videos for the Thriller album such as "Beat It", "Billie Jean", and of course "Thriller" helped put the Music Television Channel (MTV) on the map. It also broke racial barriers because he was one of the first African-American artists to have their music videos played heavily on a music channel dominated by white artists. This meant that Michael Jackson was popular to all races and not just to the black community. White kids were now looking up to an African-American man in a time when there were still some racism and that to me makes Michael Jackson such an awe-inspiring person. As an artist who was faced with many disadvantages for being an African-American, he still broke through barriers and was able to make it to the top. He was a revolutionary; his Thriller album, began a new era of music videos, has become the biggest-selling album of all time, and has forever changed the face of pop music. I remember watching the Thriller video on television in Africa in my hometown of Ghana with some family members. I was a little girl but I still remember the reaction Michael Jackson's Thriller evoked from me. I saw this fascinating guy with very curly, glistening black hair wearing a blaring red outfit the color of blood, with white, obvious socks and demonic, yellow cat eyes dancing with a catchy rhythm while belting with a clear unmistakable voice that grabbed my attention and made me start to dance and repeat "'Cause this is thriller...thriller night..." repetitively while getting my groove on. It was the most exciting video I had ever seen as a kid at that time because his voice and dancing (especially the part where he stood on his tippy-toes) blew my little mind away for he was like magic and right away I wanted to be just like him. I found out that his name was Michael Jackson and that he was widely known in Africa for we are a people of dance and music. He inspired me at a young age, in another part of the world, through his videos that actually felt like mini-movies. When I came to America, I took ballet and piano lessons for I was still interested in dancing and music even though I had grown up.

In 1987, Michael Jackson along with Quincy Jones again released another album, Bad. It sold around 22 million copies internationally and is the second biggest-selling album of all time. It generated five number one singles: "I Just Can't Stop Loving You", "Bad", "The Way You Make Me Feel", "Man in the Mirror", and "Dirty Diana". In 1988, he also produced and starred in his own film called Moonwalker. I remember watching Moonwalker in Ghana. I did not know what the movie was called but I do know that I really loved it. I still remember some memorable scenes in the film that I thought were unbelievable as a kid such as: when he transformed into both a hi-tech car and robot in order to save his friends, the ending of the film which was a concert performance by him that was filled with lots of energy and made me dance, and most importantly, the "Smooth Criminal" scene which was my favorite part of the film. "Smooth Criminal" became my favorite song from the Bad album because of the music video. Everything about the video seemed perfect to me: from the tension and anticipation at the start, to him dancing in a sort of secret code to the people in the bar, and then him hitting the center stage of the bar and doing the moonwalk in place, to the stupefying 45 degree angle lean which would always make gasp with delight. It was always a fun video to dance to and pretend that I was Michael Jackson, and so I would feel cheerful. It's a no-brainer that Michael Jackson ruled the pop and rhythm-and-blues music charts during the 1980s. Therefore, he became the legendary King of Pop.

 

One of the most important aspects of Michael Jackson's legacy that is often under-reported is his humanitarianism, especially his care for my homeland- Africa. I had not really known that he was a humanitarian and philanthropist until after his untimely death on June 25, 2009. Nevertheless, in the early '90s, he traveled to Gabon, Ivory Coast and other African countries, and during those trips, he prioritized visiting African children in schools and the sick in hospitals. These actions were apparently usual for him to do because I discovered that whichever countries he traveled to around the world, he would always make time between his concerts and tours to visit sick, mentally-challenged disadvantaged, and orphaned children, and he would often help critically ill patients at hospitals by paying for new medical equipment and covering the cost of their hospital bills. When I found out about these things, it really touched my heart and made me cry because I never thought that an artist of his fame and stature would care so much for the wellbeing of others in different parts of the world, when he really had no obligation to. He also made me in awe of him when I also found out that he did these things secretly so that the paparazzi and press wouldn't hound him and disrupt his time of giving encouragement and hope to people. This re-discovery of who Michael Jackson was after his death made him my ultimate hero. I was so thankful that he came to Africa because I know that he gave a lot people who met him, the experience of their lifetime. Also, back when Haiti was hit with the destructive earthquake that left it ravaged with disaster, the top artists of today decided to record a new version of "We are the World"- a 1985 single. I remember wondering who had come up with the idea of such a hopeful and powerful song that contained such a heartfelt message when Jamie Foxx announced on television that it was a song written by both Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. Right away, I listened to the original and wanted to know why Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie had come up with the song in the first place. I found out that they had organized an all-star group of the most popular '80s artists to sing the song in order to help raise money for famine-relief, advocacy, and educational activity in Africa. The single had helped raise $50 million dollars for the cause. I bawled with a mixture of heartfelt gratitude for what Michael Jackson along with Lionel Richie had done for my country and grief for what the people of Haiti were experiencing. I was struck with how the song was being used again today for the cause to give aid and relief to Haiti and how people seemed to respond by graciously donating money. From then on, I was hooked on finding who Michael Jackson was and came upon more of his humanitarian efforts. In 1984, at a ceremony in the White House, President Ronald Reagan had presented him with an award for his participation in a national ad campaign against drunk driving, and in the same year, he donated all the money he received from Pepsi, about 1.5 million, to the hospital where he had been treated after being badly burned during the production of a Pepsi commercial. In return, the hospital, originally named Brotman Memorial Hospital, was renamed the Michael Jackson Burn Center for Children. On July 16, 1988, before a concert at Wembley Stadium, he met the Prince of Wales and his wife Princess Diana and handed a check of 150,000 pounds for the Prince's Trust, and a check of 100,000 pounds for the children's hospital at Great Ormond Street in England. Once, his office, MJJ Productions, treated needy families in Los Angeles with more than 200 turkey dinners. In 1999, he also traveled to South Africa and presented Nelson Mandela a check of 1,000,000 South African rand for the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund. Also, on October 12, 2002, he invited more than 200 Team Vandenberg members, who had recently returned from overseas deployment and their families to his Neverland Ranch to show his appreciation for the sacrifices the military make. I think that it's amazing that he wanted to personally meet those who defend this nation's freedom and thank them in their presence for all the sacrifices they make for this country for it was a very humble and noble thing to do considering that he was Michael Jackson- the legend. There are even more exhaustive lists about Michael Jackson's humanitarian and philanthropic actions and that is why he is also listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the "Pop Star who has given the most money to charity/supports the most charities".

 (Michael Jackson’s Childhood Home on 2300 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana. (The Michael Jackson Fan Club)
(Michael Jackson’s Childhood Home on 2300 Jackson Street in Gary, Indiana. (The Michael Jackson Fan Club)

Michael Jackson is my hero because of so many reasons. He impacted my life as a kid and after his death on June 25, 2009, he became my role model and I look up to his examples. First of all, his success in attaining the "American Dream" is an incredible and encouraging story because he came from a small humble home but through his mesmerizing talents was able to overcome his past and soar into a bright future. So the saying is true. It doesn't matter where you start- what matters is where you're going. His music and dancing brought much laughter, joy, and fun into my childhood. Michael inspired me to take interest in singing and dancing because of how passionately he performed on stage in concerts that I saw on TV. It amazes me that as an African American artist during a time period when segregation among blacks and whites were still existent, he was still able to break down barriers such as MTV and boost up the African-community as well during the '80s. In addition, I think it's beautiful how his concerts became melting pots where different kinds of people came together to just enjoy themselves. Another reason why Michael Jackson is also my hero is because of how unlike today's popular artists who make music that just have to do with sex, drugs, money, and profanity in order to sell their music, he was able to sell even more records by recording songs about world peace and helping the Earth such as: "We are the World", "Man in the Mirror", "Earth Song", and "Heal the World". He was a true humanitarian and gave huge sums of his money to help the disadvantaged, impoverished, orphaned, and critically sick and did not make his visitations to hospitals and orphanages publicized, but humbly did these things from his heart. In fact, he helped lengthen and even save many kids' lives through either personally visiting them to console and give them hope, or by providing money to organizations around the world to those in need. I also deeply admire Michael Jackson for being one of the first famous artists to take interest in helping Africans, and more so for coming to Africa himself. Lastly, his "We are the World" song with Lionel Richie to help raise awareness for Africans who desperately needed basic provisions and who were dying without them was a very heroic thing to do because he saved countless lives by using his fame for the benefit of other people all the way on a different continent. So to me, these are personal reasons why Michael Jackson is my hero.

Michael Jackson worked hard to achieve his dreams and pave the way for future artists, he had a heart big enough for the whole world, and last but not least, by sharing his God-given talents with the world, Michael Jackson is a hero- an inspiration. Like they say, heroes are always remembered and legends never die. Michael Jackson was not only a hero to me but to millions of people all over the globe as well, for his music and dance made an impact and because he is the legendary King of Pop, his incredible legacy will live on forever. R.I.P. Michael Joseph Jackson (1958-2009).

Related Links

Michael Jackson's Legacy - A True Humanitarian