American superstar Michael Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana on August 29, 1958 and entertained audiences nearly his entire life. A musical prodigy, Michael’s singing and dancing talents were amazingly mature and he soon became the dominant voice and focus of The Jackson 5.
As the Jackson 5, they became a cutting-edge example of black crossover artists. “You basically had five working-class black boys with Afros and bell bottoms, and they really didn’t have to trade any of that stuff in order to become mainstream stars. Young Michael Jackson was the first black ‘bubblegum teen star’. He became one of the first African-Americans to be a global icon”, said Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of black popular culture at Duke University’s Department of African and African American Studies.
Solo success for Michael was inevitable, and by the 1980s he had become infinitely more popular than his brotherly group. Record sales consistently orbited, culminating in the biggest-selling album of all time, “Thriller” in 1982. From his precocious abilities as a young singer in The Jackson 5 to his legendary “moon-walk” dance, Jackson continued as a pioneer in the black culture when he broke barriers by appearing on MTV and had much better luck with elaborate music videos. The former president of CBS Records, Walter Yetnikoff, remembered with scorn that MTV would not play “Billie Jean” or “Beat It” because it billed itself as a rock station.
Michael Jackson co-wrote with Lionel Richie, “We Are the World,” a 1985 charity single that raised an estimated $50 million for famine relief in Africa, ushered in Live Aid and the era of celebrity philanthropy. Michael Jackson was the supreme showman who had an unrivalled knack of grabbing headlines.
Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama. Michael did with music what they later did in sports and in politics and in television. And no controversy will erase the historic impact. He also influenced a new generation of black musicians, including Usher, Ne-Yo and Kanye West.
Jackson’s changing physical appearance in the past two decades led to criticism that he was trying to be less black. But during a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson shot down rumors that he was dying his skin to make it lighter. He told the talk show host that he had vitiligo, a disorder that destroyed his skin pigmentation.
Total worldwide sales of more than 350 million records over his 40-year career give just a hint of the adoration there was for the “King of Pop”. On June 25, 2009, with his sudden death at age 50 of a cardiac arrest just as he was just coming out of a four-year reclusive period and rehearsing for a sold-out London concert in July seems uncommonly cruel and tragic. Millions of dedicated fans will remember where they were “the day Michael died” and he will be remembered as a musical hero - but also a man with human flaws.
Adapted from CNN.com and The Internet Movie Database.com
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