Introduction to one of the greatest pop/R&B groups
The Jackson Five (The Jackson 5, or the Jacksons) are an American pop/soul/blues group whose greater prominence spanned from the 60s up to the 80s. Hailing from Gary, Indiana, they are comprised of siblings: Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, and Michael; in 1976 another brother Randy replaced Jermaine as the Jackson Five moved to CBS and Jermaine opted to remain at Motown.
Starting their career in the late 60s, the group appealed to black and white audiences alike. They produced hits such as “ABC”, “I’ll Be There”, “I Want You Back” (under Motown); “Enjoy Yourself” and “Show The Way To Go” (under CBS/Epic). The group also provided the starting ground for the solo careers of Jermaine and Michael, with the latter becoming one of the most successful and legendary entertainers of all time; “The King Of Pop” died in 2009.
The Jackson Five have never officially split up and remained dormant until 2012, when all of the surviving brothers (except Randy) embarked on The Unity Tour. This nostalgic world tour started in June 2012 and ended in July 2013.
The early years: a musical family
The Jackson 5 (or The Jackson Five or The Jackson 5ive), was an American R&B and pop group. They eventually became the Jacksons due to personnel changes and record label shift, but the classic lineup of the Jackson Five consisted of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael Jackson. Under the wings of Motown Records, the Jackson Five rose to become one of the biggest and most successful pop acts of the 1970s. It was a rare feat for a youthful all-American group to have that kind of cross-over appeal to many audiences of all ages and races.
The Jackson brothers and their family originated from Gary, Indiana. By all accounts, the Jackson brood’s upbringing was strict, and their father Joe Jackson was a disciplinarian in particular.
However, Joe Jackson discovered that his sons had innate musical abilities, and he wasted no time in honing his sons’ talents. Joe believed that this would get them out of their difficult working-class conditions in their hometown. He began to establish a singing group, beginning with his three eldest sons Jackie, Tito and Jermaine. The trio then performed at local joints around Gary, initially joined by two cousins.
Eventually their younger brothers Marlon and Michael came along and replaced their two cousins in the lineup. The brothers honed further their musical, singing and also dancing abilities and would rehearse very often. Young Michael in particular was gradually seen as a very talented, lively and dynamic performer, and because of this he was chosen as a featured lead singer.
The youthful brothers officially named themselves as The Jackson Five. They began to win several competitions, with their climactic achievement being their victory at New York’s Apollo Theater.
The Motown years
The Jackson 5 first cut their first recordings at a small label in Gary, waxing off a local hit “Big Boy.” With the championing and support from Gladys Knight (the first artist who actually discovered the boys, not Diana Ross as it’s popularly thought), the Vancouvers’ Bobby Taylor and singer Diana Ross,
The Jackson Five finally got the chance to audition at Motown Records. Motown’s boss Berry Gordy was impressed and immediately signed the young brothers to his label. Motown needed fresh and young talent into its stable of artists. Berry Gordy just lost the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team and he recruited another group of songwriters — Freddie Perren, Fonce Mizell and Deke Richards — whom he named The Corporation. They were tasked to create potential hits for the young boys.
The Jackson Five released their debut album Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5was released in December 1969. Despite the title, it wasn’t really Diana Ross who first discovered the boys, but Motown made that as a promotional gimmick. In any case, it worked. The album featured two singles “Who’s Lovin’ You” and “I Want You Back.” While the former single topped the R&B singles chart, the latter on the other hand became The Jackson Five’s first #1 pop hit.
Since then the hits for The Jackson Five seemed to come in bundles: “ABC” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), “The Love You Save” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), “I’ll Be There” (#1 pop, #1 R&B), “Mama’s Pearl” (#2 pop, #2 R&B), “Never Can Say Goodbye” (#2 pop, #1 R&B), and “Sugar Daddy” (#10 pop, #3 R&B) as well as other minor hits on the pop chart. Their last Top 10 pop hit under Motown, “Dancing Machine” (#2 pop, #1 R&B), was their nod to the new genre, disco.
Their light, bouncy and effervescent brand of music led The Jackson Five to be branded as a bubblegum pop band. However, they were far more talented than the label would suggest. The brothers were musically gifted too, as they played instruments and danced with choreographed steps. Such songs as “I’ll Be There” and “Never Can Say Goodbye” displayed the group’s musical maturity, a step away from their usual upbeat hits.
Only a year after their debut, The Jackson Five fast became one of the popular acts. Their talent and youth were the things the audience really needed — and The Jackson Five were like a breath of fresh air. The boys’ fame had spread across the country, and this prompted franchising opportunities for Motown, which made The Jackson Five its main focus. The label licensed many Jackson 5-related products such as logos, stickers, posters, coloring books, and so much more. An animated feature The Jackson 5ive (1971) had been broadcast every Saturday morning. A couple of television specials also starred the boys, Goin’ Back To Indiana and The Jackson 5 Show.
During the peak of the Jackson Five’s popularity, Motown bigwigs began to groom Jermaine and Michael for solo careers, while simultaneously keeping them within The Jackson 5 lineup. Michael was the first to go with his own solo career by releasing his first album Got To Be There (1972) which spawned two top 10 hit singles “Rockin’ Robin” and the title track. He followed this with Ben (1972) which became also successful through its hit title song. Jermaine, meanwhile, emerged with his first solo effort Jermaine which spawned a Top 10 pop hit “Daddy’s Home.” Unlike Michael though, Jermaine struggled with his follow-up releases.
Moving away from Motown: from The Jackson 5 to The Jacksons
Eventually, the Jackson Five’s star was beginning to dim, and their subsequent singles began to place on the lower rungs of the pop charts although they still charted high on the R&B territory. Overexposure was the main culprit of the band’s falldown; another was that Motown’s restrictions strained the boys. The label wouldn’t allow them to write their own songs or play their own instruments on records.
Finally, the Jackson Five left Motown for good and signed with CBS/Epic Records. However, Motown legally retained The Jackson 5 name, forcing the boys to rename themselves as the Jacksons.
Michael Jackson’s meteoric rise to stardom, and end of the Jacksons classic lineup
Although their tenure at Epic was less successful compared to their days at Motown,
The Jacksons did well enough under that label. More importantly, the band was able to assume total artistic control. Their 1978 album Destiny was the group’s first successful effort under Epic, spawning the hit single “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” which peaked at #7 on the Hot 100 in 1979.
The success of Destiny prompted Michael to focus more on his solo career. Also in 1979, he released his fifth solo album and his first under the Epic label, Off The Wall.The LP marked a transition from a child singer to an adult artist. The album was successful and made Michael Jackson a star on his own right, although he remained with the Jacksons for the time being. However, Jackson’s follow-up, Thriller, became a record-breaking global success, critically and commercially.
Thriller‘s staggering success, unfortunately, meant the end of the Jacksons. The group reunited for their Victory album and tour, and this became very successful; it was also to be the last project featuring all six Jackson brothers, including their youngest brother Randy.
The Jackson brothers in recent years: death of Michael and the group’s Unity Tour (2012-2013)
The Jacksons released another album 2300 Jackson Street in 1989. This was their first album recorded without Michael and Marlon, although they did appear on the title track. Predictably, the album suffered poor sales, and their label Epic dropped the group at the end of the year.
After 2300 Jackson Street they have been on a long hiatus. Michael died in June 2009, triggering an outpouring of grief from fans all over the world.
Three years after Michael’s passing, The Jacksons announced in April 2012 that they would be going out on a world tour. In the following June, all of the Jackson brothers (for the exception of Randy) kicked off their Unity Tour, which covered several US cities as well as in Asia, Europe and Africa. They performed the biggest Jackson Five hits as well as few songs from Michael and Jermaine Jackson’s solo recordings. The Unity Tour ended in July 2013
The Jackson Five was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
Interesting Facts About the Jackson Five
Here are some lesser-known facts about the Jackson Five regarding their career and controversial family life.
Their father discovered the brothers’ talent for music
The Jackson Five’s father, Joe Jackson, bolstered the band’s interest in music. In 1964, Joe saw a golden opportunity when he caught Tito playing with his guitar, along with Jackie and Jermaine, and discovered that his sons had musical talent. Joe was so impressed that he bought him his own guitar.
Later on, Tito, Jackie, and Jermaine formed their group, with Michael, who was five years old at the time, playing congas. They also had their childhood friends Reynaud Jones and Milford Hite on keyboards and drums.
It was Gladys Knight who discovered the Jackson Five
There was a widespread rumor that it was the legendary Diana Ross who discovered the Jackson Five in their early years, but it was actually the “Empress of Soul,” Gladys Knight” who did. Knight put in a call to Motown executives after her first encounter with their talent, especially Michael, whom she said was “really special.” For Gladys, it was not about who had discovered them, but what was important was the network of people coming together to get the group of young men recognized.
Initially, Jackson Five’s tape was rejected and sent back, and it got other rejections after that before signing into Steeltown Records. But it was when the boys opened for Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers they were invited to audition for Motown again. Motown executive Barry Gordy initially refused any more “kid acts” but changed his mind when the Jacksons’ tape blew him away. He immediately signed them up in 1969, and the rest is history.
Michael felt abused by his father
Joe was a strict disciplinarian, and his methods bordered on the extreme. In an interview with Oprah, he admitted to using a belt strap to beat his children to keep them away from trouble and the gangs in their neighborhood. Michael, in particular, said that his father physically and emotionally abused him during rehearsals, as he was always sitting with a belt in his hand, ready to punish them for their mistakes.
Their mother, Katherine, said that although whipping came to be considered abuse, it was a common way to discipline children during their time. The other brothers, Jackie, Tito, Marlon, and Jermaine, denied that their father was abusive and agreed that it kept them disciplined and out of trouble.
However, Michael was deeply affected by it because he was younger and felt lonely and isolated in his youth. Allegedly, Joe would force them to practice five hours a day after school to the point of physical exhaustion, and he controlled every aspect of their lives. Also, Jermaine said that none of the kids remember their father being affectionate with them or telling them he loved them.
The Jackson Five was raised as Jehovah’s Witnesses
The siblings’ mother, Katherine Esther Jackson, converted to Jehovah’s Witness faith in 1963 after meeting a person who spread the faith message door-to-door. She became devout to the faith and raised their children in it, encouraging young La Toya and Michael to preach the message to their neighborhood.
Even after Jackson 5 became famous, Michael continued his door-to-door preaching by disguising himself with hats or fake mustaches so he won’t be recognized. He continued doing so until after the video for the song Thriller (which the Witnesses strongly opposed) came out. He disassociated himself from the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1987.
They started performing in local talent shows
The Jackson Five were exposed to music, particularly Western and country, at a young age. Their mother led them in singing songs. The group – brothers Tito, Jackie, and Jermaine – started performing locally as the Jackson family. Later, they were joined by Marlon and Michael, making the band a quintet.
They started participating in local talent shows in their hometown in Indiana, and after winning a citywide talent show, the Jackson Five recorded their first songs at a local record label. One of their songs, “Big Boy,” was a regional hit that was later picked up for distribution by a national record company.
When their record became a success, the Jackson Five were able to get engagements at Chicago nightclubs and, later, at clubs around the country at the Chitlin’ Circuit.
They were probably the first ever professional boy band
The Jackson family represented a colossus in music history. Michael, Marlon, Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine had an average age of 12 when they turned professional, making them the original boy band. Wherever they went, the Jackson Five had thousands of fans waiting for them, and they had to be escorted by the police. It’s typical with big stars of today, but at their time, it was extraordinary.
During the height of Jacksonmania, crowds would pile up on top of each other to get closer and closer on stage, with the police trying to control the situation. When the Jackson Five performed at The Forum in Inglewood, California, in 1970, they attracted 19,000 fans, which was a record at the time. Thousands of others were turned away because the concert venue was at full capacity. Then, the tours got bigger and bigger as they evolved, with the band performing at sold-out concerts in the United States and Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Some big names in the industry opened for the Jackson Five at the start of their careers
Opening acts for their concerts included Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Butler, Rare Earth, and the Commodores, of which Lionel Richie was a part.
The Jackson Five became Motown’s brand
As the excitement of Jacksonmania expanded worldwide, Motown established a Jackson Five brand. They defined black American music as a commercial entity for longer than any other artist or group.
The Jackson Five became Motown’s main marketing focus, and the label capitalized on its youth appeal. Motown licensed dozens of products, including the J5 heart logo, the group’s album covers, posters, stickers, and coloring books. There was even a board game and a Saturday morning cartoon series entitled “The Jackson 5ive.”
The Jackson Five eventually inspired several generations of boy bands to come after them, including the Boyz II Men, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, One Direction, BTS, and many more.
They were forced to drop their name when they left Motown
After they had become a major success, the Jackson Five decided to leave Motown Records in 1976 for Epic Records, citing that Epic would offer a better promotion and ability to sell entire albums than singles. But unbeknownst to the group, Gordy had trademarked the name “Jackson Five” and didn’t allow them to keep using the name when they left the label. Once they were signed with Epic, the group became known as The Jacksons.
The group last toured in 2012
On June 2012, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon started their Unity Tour, the last tour in which they reunited for several concerts in the United States and Canada. The tour started in Ontario, Canada, and ended in July 2013 in Atlantic City, United States.
Jermaine was the first to pursue a solo career
Jermaine was the first of the Jackson brothers to leave The Jackson Five and pursue a solo career. As he was involved (and later married) with Motown executive Barry Gordy’s daughter, Hazel (with whom he had three kids), Jermaine remained with Motown Records. Their younger brother Randy joined the band after his departure.
Jermaine had bad blood with Michael
As Jermaine stayed with Motown, he released a feuding single called “Word to the Badd,” which meant lashing out at Michael for supposedly convincing producers to focus on his album rather than Jermaine’s. Back then, they were both groomed for solo careers by Motown.
When Michael became a resounding success as a solo artist, jealousy took over him, saying, “that should have been me,” many times. Of all the Jacksons, none was more tortured by Michael’s superstardom than Jermaine. A close friend of the family claimed that he would spend an entire day ranting against him but go on a talk show defending him. Though he got negative feelings towards his younger brother, Jermaine became Michael’s most vocal defender, dismissing every rumor about him on any show or interview that would have him.
The Jackson Five had a step-sister from Joe’s affair
A scandal broke out when it was reported that Jackson’s patriarch, Joe Jackson, had many affairs and mistresses over the years. But it wasn’t until he had a child with another woman that his wife Katherine spoke about it, denouncing him in public. Joe apparently had a 25-year affair with Cheryl Terrell, with whom he had a daughter named Joh’Vonnie Jackson. Cheryl was 20 years younger than Joe and married, which apparently was not a problem for Joe. According to the New York Post, Joe later revealed that he named himself “The Hawk” for his ability to pick up much younger women.
Also, Joe set up his mistress and Joh’Vonnie in a house not five miles away from his family home in California, so he could visit his second family almost daily. Katherine filed for divorce twice but withdrew it both times to honor her faith. Joe and Katherine may have stayed married, but the couple was estranged for the last years of Joe’s life.
Jermaine stole and then married Randy’s girlfriend
If there’s one best example of how dysfunctional and controversial the Jackson family is, it’s when Jermaine stole and married Randy’s girlfriend, Alejandra Oaziaza, the mother of Randy’s two children. Randy and Alejandra dated for a long time and had two children, Genevieve and Randy Jr. But Randy was a bit too immature for Alejandra, and while he was away from home, Jermaine moved in and flirted his way into a relationship with her.
In 1995, Jermaine married Alejandra secretly, and they had three children together, Jaafar, Donte, and Jermajesty, before they divorced in 2003. It was the ultimate betrayal, so needless to say, Randy was devastated and outraged. Randy even withheld child support for his children with Alejandra because of his anger. They refused to speak with one another for years.
Michael and Janet had to cut off their siblings and parents
Though the Jacksons tasted musical success and international fame, debts started to pile up over the years, and the family started relying heavily on Michael and Janet, who earned the most as their careers continued to shine.
However, for unknown reasons, Michael and Janet eventually cut off their parents and siblings in 2003. Michael went so far as to leave his siblings and father out of his will that when he died in 2009, only his children and his mother, Katherine, inherited his assets.