After a lot of speculation and disbelief it has been confirmed that Michael Jackson has indeed passed today from cardiac arrest. 50 years old is too young to die! My heart is heavy because of the cultural and musical impact that Michael Jackson had on the record industry and in particular the hearts of Black people around the world.
An economically struggling but talented family gets signed to Motown and makes history. We can all remember the little boy at the center of it all with the dance moves to rival James Brown and the soaring tenor. So many great songs that were the soundtracks to our childhoods, we thought they were part of our families!
We watched the family grow up because we grew up with them. Their music spanned generations. Where else could grandparents, parents and children alike all find something to enjoy? There were rumors of trouble but the music kept coming and we kept coming back for more. Who doesn’t remember practicing dance moves and singing the songs along with the brothers or watching their Saturday morning cartoon?
When Michael went solo it was like a bolt of lightning. He was no longer the little boy of innocence but a young man whose music was fiyah. He gave us Off the Wall and went into orbit. Songs like Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough with its intersection of disco and soulful pop didn’t sound like anything else on the radio. He was just getting started. We wanted that Beat It jacket. I had to wear a fresh pair of white socks with my black penny loafers to get that MJ shine.
When Thriller was released it was as if a bomb had hit the world. Every song was a gem. Every video on point and completely innovative. MTV had to be threatened because they were racists who wouldn’t play videos by Black artists. Isn’t it ironic that if you turn to the station right now, they’ve ceased all programming to play….his videos. Michael had arrived and the world took notice. Nobody could touch him musically!!
For he wasn’t just a Black artist, an R&B artist, he was an international star, its biggest star of these modern times. Elvis Presley had been awarded with the title of King riding the musical legacy of Blacks, yet Jackson’s insistence on being given the same deference was met with derision. He is and will always be the King of Pop. He’d earned the right and it should’ve been respected.
Just when we thought he couldn’t be any more fabulous there was the infamous Motown 25th Anniversary show where he was reunited with his brothers, but it was his solo performance of his signature dance move, the Moonwalk that brought the house down.
More music was coming and with it the revelation of personal demons. I can’t offer a proper tribute without acknowledging the struggles. Every genius has a somewhat tortured existence. It’s part of what makes them brilliant – that sensitivity and being so emotionally attuned. We have no idea how many demons were at his door. I still have a hard time with discussing the allegations of child abuse and the way prosecutors had laws changed in order go after him. I don’t condone any harm he may have caused but I certainly don’t ignore the fact many were out to exploit him for profit and fame as well.
Still on a bad day the music that Jackson released was so far superior to much of what passes as standard fare today. I know there is NO ONE out right now, or who was his contemporary who could touch him when he was at his peak and at his best. There is no one coming up in the industry that even comes close. Sorry folks, that talent ship has sailed.
I am so grateful that I got to grow up in the era where he was in his prime, releasing quality music that did not embarrass or denigrate Blacks. I hated the disrespectful way some in the media spoke of him and I attribute it squarely to their racism at having to give a non-white respect. His influence was unparalleled and it made many uncomfortable.
He was just a man, a man who went on to have his own family and live his life without being harassed or belittled. So I just had to get some words out to release some of this pressure on my heart. I raise my hand in salute to you, the one and only MJ. May you rest in peace. Your music lives on forever!!!