Black Music Month is always a sentimental time for me as I reminisce on all of the great music that African Americans have contributed to the world. Just thinking about how far black music has come is enough for celebration and reflection. Mere field hollers, foot stomping, and sorrowful sounds of bondage shaped an entire spectrum of music from blues to jazz, gospel, R&B, and hip hop. And those are just a few genres that have been formed as a result of African American musical contributions.
As I stated in the first of a series of articles on Black Music Month, it would be impossible to name and highlight every artist who has contributed to this great body of work that we can listen to, enjoy, and be inspired by.
But, of the few artists I have covered, it wouldn’t be right if I didn’t give proper recognition to the man that influenced an entire generation of pop artists. And that man is none other than Michael Jackson. Today marks the four year anniversary of his death. Jackson will always be remembered for his indelible impact on American music, and as an innovator of pop culture. From the time he debuted with the Jackson 5 up until he took his final breath, Jackson managed to touch millions with his music.
I first wrote about MJ in 2009 for my college newspaper The Michigan Journal. I thought it would be impossible to include everything that Jackson had done in the music business and poetically describe a man who was admired by millions of people. While it can be difficult to truly do justice to the King of Pop, I now know that it’s not impossible to cover an icon. It just takes a bit of patience, and a lot of love for the artist.
Listed below is an excerpt from my Michigan Journal article about Michael Jackson.
“Long Live the King of Pop”— Michigan Journal, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Cultural critic and Princeton University Professor Dr. Cornel West called Jackson “the greatest entertainer of the 20th century.”
However, West also stated that even at his highest level, Jackson was still just a human being, and aside from the momentous fortune and fame he possessed, his life was also filled with controversy and adversity, just like any other person.
Even Jackson himself stated that,” I’m just like anyone. I cut and I bleed and I embarrass easily.”
The public may look at Jackson as a transcendent figure in international pop culture, as a rare diamond that only comes around once every one hundred years, but in the end, it was his music and stage presence that elevated the standard of American expression and influenced generations of artists.
Jackson was declared the King of Pop over twenty years ago by his friend Elizabeth Taylor, but his days as a prince in the music industry began when he was the lead singer of the Jackson Five. The Motown act became the first group in music history to have their first four singles, “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “ I’ll Be There” skyrocket to number one on the Billboard charts.
It was also while Jackson was a member of the group that the world was introduced to the superb vocal skills, and energetic presence that would make him one of the most successful entertainers in the music business.
Jackson became the first artist in history to have a number one hit as a solo artist while still a member of a group. His second solo album, Ben, released in 1972 was the first of Jackson’s 13 number one hits in the United States.
Jackson’s innocence captured the hearts of millions of fans, especially on songs such as “Ben.” However, on songs such as “Who’s Loving You,” “Never Can Say goodbye” and “Got To Be There,” his mature vocal abilities matched with the adult subject matters for which he was singing about made him a seasoned professional well before he reached his teenage years.
Jackson’s veteran status in music was even more apparent on his future albums Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad, all of which were best selling albums and helped to further bridge the gap between Rhythm and Blues, Pop, and Rock ‘N’ Roll.
It was also with the release of his 1980s albums such as Thriller and Bad that Jackson displayed innovative dance moves such as the moonwalk and the anti gravity lean.
Furthermore, his unique clothing style and approach to music videos are revolutionary techniques that continue to impact popular culture.
According to Billboard.com Thriller set a new benchmark for blockbusters that changed how the music business promoted and marketed superstar releases. It also changed MTV, breaking down the cable network’s racial barriers and raising the bar for video quality.
Even after his monumental success during the 1980’s, Jackson continued to reach new heights in the industry with Dangerous, History: Past, Present and Future, and Invincible, his last studio recorded album, which was released in 2001.
Yet, the more success Jackson obtained, the more battles he had to fight within his personal life, which became the target of the media.
His skin color, his marriage to Lisa Maria Presley, and child molestation allegations were continuous issues in Jackson’s life that remained in the public eye until his death.
But, for a man who attained fame beyond measure, sold over 750 million records worldwide, and broke many barriers in music, it would have been impossible for him to have led an ordinary lifestyle.
And Jackson did not owe us his life or even his music, but as Dr. West added, “he sacrificed his childhood to serve us and that’s what makes him a great artist.”
“If you enter this world knowing you are loved and you leave this world knowing the same, then everything that happens in between can be dealt with,”– Michael Jackson