Born and raised in Gary, Indiana, the Jackson brothers were guided early in their careers by their father Joseph Jackson, a steel mill crane operator and former musician, and their mother Katherine Jackson, who watched over the boys during the early years. The boys recalled playing around with their father’s guitar while he was away working on Gary’s steel mills. One night, Joe caught one of the brothers playing his guitar after a string broke. Initially upset with his sons playing behind his back, he saw their potential and in 1964, Jackie, Tito and Jermaine formed The Jackson Brothers, including hometown friends Reynaud Jones and Milford Hite on guitar and drums respectively. By the end of the following year, the group’s younger brothers Marlon and Michael joined the instrumental band playing tambourine and congas.
Showing extraordinary talent at a tender age, young Michael began demonstrating his dance moves and singing ability and around mid-1966, before his eighth birthday, Michael was allowed to perform his song-and-dance routine at a talent contest held at Jackie’s Roosevelt High School in Gary, helping his brothers win the competition. It was at that point that Tito’s junior high school orchestra teacher Shirley Cartman began mentoring the group and suggested a name change referring to the boys as The Jackson Five. She also suggested replacing Jones and Hite with talented musicians Johnny Jackson–no relation–on drums and Ronnie Rancifer on keyboards. Tito moved up to lead guitar while Jermaine played bass guitar after several years as a rhythm guitarist.
After the contest win, the group began playing professional gigs in Indiana, Chicago and across the U.S. Many of these gigs were in a string of black clubs and venues collectively known as the “chitlin’ circuit”. The group also found themselves performing for adult strip teasers at strip joints to earn money. Cartman got The Jackson Five a record deal with Gordon Keith’s local Steeltown label, and the group began making their first recordings in October 1967. Their first single, “Big Boy”, was released in January 1968 and became a regional hit. This was followed by a second and final single—”We Don’t Have To Be Over 21 (to Fall in Love)”.
The Jackson Five had a number of admirers in their early days, including Sam & Dave, who helped the group secure a spot in the famous Amateur Night competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The group won the August 13, 1967 competition during the Amateur Night showdown at the Apollo, impressing Motown Records artist Gladys Knight of The Pips. Knight recommended the group to Motown chief Berry Gordy, but Gordy, who already had teenager Stevie Wonder on his roster, was hesitant to take on another child act because of the child labor laws and other problems involved.
The Jackson Five’s sound was influenced by many of the biggest stars of the 1960s, including the self-contained funk bands Sly & the Family Stone and The Isley Brothers, Motown group The Temptations, soul legend Marvin Gaye, rock ‘n’ roll kid group The Teenagers and soul shouters like Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Joe Tex and James Brown. At the time of their early success, R&B stars, especially coming from Motown Records, were among the most popular musicians; Motown had launched the careers of dozens of the decade’s biggest stars, most notably The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and the Temptations
By 1968, The Jackson 5 were a headlining act for the All Star Floor Show at Chicago’s The Guys’ and Gals’ Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant. From August 12–27, 1968, The Jackson 5 opened for Motown group Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers at Chicago’s Regal Theater. Taylor was also very impressed with the boys, and he decided to make the commitment to bring them to Detroit and Motown. Joseph and The Jackson Five stayed on the floor of Bobby Taylor’s Detroit apartment the night of July 22, while Taylor and Motown executive Suzanne de Passe arranged for The Jackson Five to audition for the label.
On July 23, The Jackson Five had their Motown audition, for which they performed James Brown’s then current hit “I Got the Feelin'”. Berry Gordy was not in attendance, but the audition was videotaped and sent to him in Los Angeles. Gordy’s initial reluctance to sign the group disappeared when he finally saw the boys perform. Gordy decided to sign The Jackson Five to Motown, and hosted a party at his Detroit mansion on November 25, 1968 to introduce them to the Motown staff and stars.
Motown began negotiations to buy out The Jackson Five’s Steeltown contract, completing the deal in March 1969. By the summer, Bobby Taylor began producing the group’s first recordings at Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio in Detroit. The early Taylor-produced Jackson Five records were all covers of both contemporary hits and Motown-standards, including Sly & the Family Stone’s “Stand!” and their famous rendition of The Miracles’ “Who’s Lovin’ You”, written by Smokey Robinson.
Gordy moved The Jackson Five and Joseph to California, and he and Suzanne de Passe began the process of grooming them as the label’s next big act, while the rest of the family remained in Gary. While looking for a house in California, Joseph, Jermaine, Tito, and Jackie lived with Berry Gordy, Marlon and Michael lived with Diana Ross in her California home. Before releasing their first single, Motown renamed them slightly from “The Jackson Five” to “The Jackson 5”.
Jackson 5 discovery credit discrepancy
The Jackson 5 in concert.
In the meantime, Motown’s marketing team began preparing press kits and other promotion material to begin The Jackson 5’s entrance into the mainstream music industry. Motown publicity significantly altered the group’s history, reducing the ages of most of its band mates – Michael’s age changed from eleven to eight to make him appear cuter and identifying unrelated band musicians Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer as cousins of The Jacksons. In a major marketing coup, Gordy and Motown decided to attach the group to an established star to increase public curiosity. Thus, it was decided that Motown star Diana Ross would “discover” the group as was explained in all early press kits. According to their official Motown biography, referenced in several early interviews and liner notes, Diana Ross (and, in some versions of the story, Berry Gordy alongside her) was introduced to The Jackson 5 by Gary, Indiana’s mayor, Richard G. Hatcher, at a benefit concert that The Jackson 5 were described as having played for the mayor in 1969. Impressed, Ross (and Gordy) had the act signed.
Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5
The cover to The Jackson 5’s first LP, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, released on Motown Records in 1969.
The Jackson 5 practiced and rehearsed continuously during the late summer and early fall of 1969. Diana Ross formally introduced The Jackson 5 to the public on August 11, 1968, at a Beverly Hills, California club called The Daisy. Towards the end of August, The Jackson 5 made their first television appearance, singing The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” at the Miss Black America Pageant in Madison Square Garden, New York City.
The Jackson 5’s first single, “I Want You Back”, was written and produced by four Motown songwriters and producers — Berry Gordy, Alphonzo Mizell, Deke Richards, and Freddie Perren — who were collectively billed as “The Corporation”. “I Want You Back” was released as a single for The Jackson 5, as Motown decided to officially bill the group, on October 7. The group performed “I Want You Back”, Sly & the Family Stone’s “Sing a Simple Song”, The Delfonics’ “Can You Remember”, and James Brown’s “There Was a Time” as part of their appearance on The Hollywood Palace as special guests of Diana Ross & the Supremes. “I Want You Back” was the only single from The Jackson 5’s first album, Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, which was released in December 1969. The song reached number one in January, 1970.
Popularization and franchise expansion
Most of the early Jackson 5 singles were written and produced by The Corporation, who crafted for The Jackson 5 a sound that mixed the traditional “Motown Sound” with teenage-honed lyrics that they termed “bubblegum soul”. The Jackson 5 became an instant sensation, with “I Want You Back” and its 1970 follow-ups “ABC”, “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There” all going to #1 on both the Billboard Pop Singles chart and the Billboard Soul Singles (R&B) chart. Other early Top 5 hits included “Mama’s Pearl” and “Never Can Say Goodbye.”
Now successful, Joseph was finally able to arrange to move Katherine and the rest of the family out to California in 1970. First moving into a two-story residence at 1616 Queens Road in Los Angeles, the Jackson family moved to a gated mansion they called “Hayvenhurst”, which was purchased by Joseph in March 1971.
“Jacksonmania” swept the nation, and within a year of their debut The Jackson 5 were among the biggest names in popular music. The group essentially replaced The Supremes as Motown’s main marketing focus, and, capitalizing upon the youth-oriented appeal of the Jackson brothers, Motown licensed dozens of Jackson 5-related juvenile products, including the now famous J5 Heart logo which appears on Johnny Jacksons drum kit and many of The Jackson 5’s album covers, stickers, sewable patches, posters, and coloring books. A new teen magazine aimed at African-American youth, Right On!, began publication in 1971, and focused heavily on The Jackson 5; at least one Jackson adorned the cover of every issue published between January 1972 and April 1974. Animation producers Rankin/Bass produced The Jackson 5ive, a Saturday morning cartoon that debuted on September 11, 1971 and ran for two seasons on ABC. The Jackson 5 starred in two of their own television specials, Goin’ Back to Indiana (aired September 16, 1971) and The Jackson 5 Show (aired November 5, 1972).
A scene from Rankin-Bass’s The Jackson 5ive Saturday morning cartoon.
In 1971, Motown began a spin-off solo career for Michael, whose first single, “Got to Be There,” was a Top 5 hit. Michael also sang the title track for the 1972 motion picture Ben. His other successful solo singles included “Rockin’ Robin” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are” (both 1972). Jermaine started a solo career of his own in 1972, and had a Top Ten hit with his Shep and the Limelites cover “Daddy’s Home” Jackie also recorded a solo album, but his releases failed to chart. Despite fan rumors that all three Jacksons might leave the group as they released solo work, the solo careers of Michael, Jermaine, and Jackie co-existed alongside that of the group as a whole, allowing Motown to expand the success and sales of Jackson 5-related releases.
After 1972, The Jackson 5’s releases were less successful, but they still did very well. Later Top 20 hits, mostly written and produced by Hal Davis, included “Lookin’ Through the Windows” (1972) and the disco-styled “Dancing Machine” (1974), which popularized the “Robot” dance routine. Jackson 5 albums declined somewhat in critical acclaim and financial success during the latter part of their Motown tenure, although LPs such as Lookin’ Through the Windows (1972) and G.I.T.: Get It Together (1973) frequently included successful album tracks, including their version of “Hum Along and Dance”, a popular number in their live act.
Critics, The Jackson 5, and Joseph Jackson agreed that the main reason for the group’s declining success was Motown’s refusal to update their image. Although they played their own instruments on stage and had begun writing and producing songs in their own home recording studio, The Jacksons later said that Motown wouldn’t allow them to record their own compositions nor play instruments in their studio recordings. The group’s studio recordings were first handled by Motown’s famed in-house studio band The Funk Brothers during their brief recording tenure at Hitsville and later instrumentation was played by many of the members of The Wrecking Crew, which formed Motown’s Hitsville West studio band. Feeling that The Jackson 5 could be more of a success without Motown, which was by this time declining in success and popularity, Joseph began shopping for a new record deal for his sons.
The move to CBS Records
The cover to the 1978 album Destiny.
In 1975, Joseph negotiated a new recording contract with CBS Records, who offered a royalty rate of 20% per record, compared to Motown’s standard 2.8%; and would allow the Jackson brothers to write and produce their own records and play their own instruments. After unsuccessfully attempting to talk the group into staying on the label, Motown sued for breach of contract. Although Motown eventually let the group go, The Jackson 5 were forced to change their name to The Jacksons, because Motown retained the “Jackson 5” trademark during the settlement of the lawsuit. The Jacksons also replaced Jermaine with the youngest Jackson brother, fourteen year old Randy, since Jermaine chose to stay with Motown and his father-in-law Berry Gordy (In 1973, Jermaine married Gordy’s daughter Hazel). Randy had been an unofficial member of The Jackson 5 since 1972, playing congas onstage as part of their live act.
After losing The Jacksons, Motown would not have another success of their caliber for the duration of Berry Gordy’s ownership of the label. Gordy often said of The Jackson 5 that they were, coming after the label’s most famous acts, “the last big stars to come rolling off the [Motown] assembly line.”
In summer 1976, CBS television signed the Jackson family (including Michael, Marlon, Tito, Jackie, Randy, Rebbie, LaToya, and Janet) to appear in their own variety show, to compete with ABC’s Donny & Marie. The Jacksons debuted on June 16, 1976, and ran on CBS until its cancellation the following March. The show was the first variety show hosted by an African American family.
At first, part of CBS’s Philadelphia International Records division, and later moving over to Epic Records, The Jacksons continued releasing popular singles such as “Enjoy Yourself” (1976), produced by Philadelphia International’s Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff. After two LPs produced by Gamble and Huff, The Jacksons wanted artistic control, and produced their next LP, 1978’s Destiny, on their own. The album included The Jacksons’ biggest post-Motown single, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, which charted at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number three on the Billboard R&B Singles chart. “Shake Your Body”, written by Michael and Randy, sold over two million copies, attaining double-platinum status. Destiny also went platinum, and peaked at number 11 on the Billboard 200 album chart and number three on the R&B album charts. In 1979, The Jacksons received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In 1978, Michael starred alongside Diana Ross in the Motown/Universal Pictures motion picture The Wiz, an adaptation of the Broadway musical based upon L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Quincy Jones was the producer of the film’s songs, and he and Michael began work on Michael’s first Epic solo album, Off the Wall, the next year. Off the Wall, released in 1979, sold 20 million copies worldwide and featured four Top 10 hit singles and two number-one singles, causing some speculation about whether Michael would leave The Jacksons though Michael told several reporters at the time that such speculation was untrue.
In 1980 the group released the Triumph album, which featured the hits “Lovely One” and “Can You Feel It”. The following year’s The Jacksons Live! used recordings from the group’s Triumph Tour, which in 1988 was described by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the best 25 tours from 1967 to 1987. The group’s success was outperformed, however, by Michael’s 1982 LP Thriller. Thriller went on to become the second most successful album ever in the United States (after the Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975)), and to date stands as the world’s best-selling album of all time.
The cover to the 1984 album Victory.
The Motown 25 television special, broadcast on NBC on May 16, 1983, featured a reunion performance between Jermaine and the other brothers. Outside of one 1979 appearance on the TV show Midnight Special this was the original Jackson 5’s first performance in nearly seven years. The Motown 25 Jackson 5 reunion was overshadowed, however, by Michael’s landmark performance of “Billie Jean” on the same program, which introduced his trademark “moonwalk” dance.
The Jacksons released the album Victory in 1984, featuring the hit single “State of Shock” with guest star Mick Jagger, and supported the album with the massively successful Victory World Tour. The Victory album and tour marked the official return of Jermaine to the group’s lineup, making them a sextet.
Shortly after the Victory Tour, Michael left The Jacksons, as his solo career had led to the success of Thriller and its singles. His name recognition as a solo act had also grown, despite touring as part of a group. Marlon followed Michael out of the group a year later during a group meeting. The other brothers eventually drifted apart to take on solo projects (although most of them appeared with Michael on the U.S. For Africa single “We Are the World” in 1985). The Jacksons reunited for one last album, 2300 Jackson Street in 1989. While every Jackson sibling except for LaToya appeared on the title track, a #9 R&B hit single, most of the album featured Jermaine, Jackie, Tito, and Randy as the line up. Michael Jackson’s fame as a solo act as well as the growing fame of the group’s youngest sister, Janet Jackson, had overshadowed the group entirely. A CD compilation of hits from the CBS/Epic years, The Essential Jacksons, was released in 2004, as was a separate compilation assembled by Universal/Hip-O, The Jacksons Story.
Post-history and followers
Tito Jackson, like his father before him, organized his three sons into a musical group called 3T, who had a #2 UK hit, titled “Why?”, as well as a big US hit with “Anything,” both in 1996 (“Why?” featured a guest appearance from Michael Jackson). Soon afterwards, Tito began a low-key career as a blues musician. Randy Jackson was involved for some time with a group known as Randy and the Gypsies, who enjoyed minor success. In 2004, Randy was also the webmaster for Michael’s last official website, MJJ Source, which was closed in 2005.
The Jackson 5’s influence on later performers has been profound, inspiring a number of performers from diverse fields, including pop emo band Dashboard Confessional, R&B groups New Edition and B5, and boy band Hanson. One of the most archetypal Jackson 5 followers were Five Star, a British black family act from the mid-80s comprising of siblings Stedman, Doris, Lorraine, Deniece and Delroy Pearson. The group were also managed by their father, Buster Pearson and began recording when youngest member Delroy was twelve years old. The group was often compared to The Jackson 5 by the press.
The Jackson 5 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. In addition, two of their songs (“ABC” and “I Want You Back”) are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 1999, “I Want You Back” was also inducted in Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
In 1992, Suzanne de Passe and Jermaine Jackson worked with Motown to produce The Jacksons: An American Dream, a five-hour television miniseries broadcast based on the history of The Jacksons in two parts on ABC. The first installment of the miniseries covered the decades from Katherine and Joseph Jackson’s first meeting in the late-1940s up until the first Jackson 5 releases on Motown in 1969, while the second part covered the years from 1970 to 1984, and the effects of The Jackson 5’s phenomenal success on the family. The miniseries was the highest rated show of the week, won an Emmy Award and was nominated for three more, and won two Young Artist Awards.