Family, Fame, And A Father’s Quest For Fortune: Behind The Curtain Of The Jackson 5

Today Michael Jackson’s talent and fame casts a shadow over anything the Jackson 5 accomplished in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. But without the group, there would be no Michael Jackson. It wasn’t young Michael who grabbed the mic, danced on stage, and became a star — it was his father Joe Jackson who dreamt of a career in music, and it was Joe who made it happen for the family.

Before Michael was the King of Pop, Joe was the family patriarch who called the shots and kept a tight grip on his family’s future. With the passing of Michael Jackson, and now Joe, we wonder what could have been different had the cards fallen a different way. If the Jackson 5 had never topped the charts, would the family have gone a different way?

Joe Jackson Was a Boxer and Played in a Blues Band


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Before he was the father of ten kids, Joe Jackson had dreams of becoming a professional boxer. While working full-time at Inland Steel, he trained and competed in the ring on the side. He also played in a blues band. Joe was a guitar player for The Falcons, based in Indiana, and hoped to land a record deal.

However, one of the band members left and started a successful doo-wop group, and the band fell apart. By that time, his boxing career had ended, and it appeared to be the end of Joe’s hopes for a career in music, too.

The Jackson Family’s Beginnings


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Joe Jackson moved to East Chicago, Indiana, when he was 18. He married Katherine Scruse in 1949. They moved to Gary, Indiana and began a family — with a total of 10 children together! Although Joe and Katherine’s relationship was rocky over the years, she spoke about her instant love for him in a 2009 interview: “I just had a feeling that he would be my husband. The first time I saw him, I fell in love with him.”

Their first child was born in 1950 and the last in 1974. Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, LaToya, Marlon, Michael, Randy, and Janet were all musically talented and eventually became household names.

The Brothers Rehearsed for Three Years Before Performing


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One night in the early 1960s, Joe Jackson came home from work and found that his sons had been playing with his guitar. Three of his eldest sons, Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine showed an interest in music, and he began teaching them.

Joe Jackson told Time magazine in a 1984 interview, “When I found out that my kids were interested in becoming entertainers, I really went to work with them. I rehearsed them about three years before I turned them loose. I saw that after they became better, they enjoyed it more.”

The Rehearsals Were Intense


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Joe Jackson was raised by a stern father himself and as it turns out, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Joe subjected his sons to brutally long rehearsals filled with criticism. It was clear that the family group wasn’t going to be all fun and games– it was going to be tough work.

While his eldest sons sang the lead, he recruited young Marlon and Michael as background singers. Together the boys performed under the name The Jackson Brothers.

The Jacksons Get a Recording Deal


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By 1967, they changed their name to The Jackson 5, and Joe secured a professional contract for the group with Steeltown Records, a local recording label based out of Gary, Indiana. Their first single “Big Boy” aired on radio stations around Chicago and Indiana, and soon the boys became local celebrities.

Then in March of 1969, Joe took his sons to Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan for an audition. Motown wanted them, and Joe quickly signed the contract without even reading it. Gladys Knight had previously sent a demo tape of the boys’ performance to Motown Records, which was sent back to them, rejected. It looked like now was the time for the Jacksons’ big break.

The Family Hits The Fast Track To Fame


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Once they were signed with Motown, everything happened quickly. Joe relocated the family to Encino, California, where they lived in a mansion. He would supervise every recording session. With young Michael taking the lead, the group recorded “I Want You Back.” Incredibly, it topped the charts as the #1 single, released on October 7, 1969.

All of the practice and rehearsing paid off, as the brothers’ live acts were completely polished with the young boys beaming with confidence. In a story for Telegraph, Tito Jackson wrote, “At that point, we were all fearless, we were just doing what we did.”

The Hits Just Kept On Coming


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After “I Want You Back” topped the charts, the Jackson 5 followed up with three more hit singles, “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There.” The group performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, and The Carol Burnett Show.

In the late ’60s, the group took the stage at top music venues like Harlem’s Apollo Theater and the Regal Theater in Chicago. Their father Joe also booked them gigs at strip clubs, to keep the money coming.

Joe had another plan to make more money…

Michael Jackson Goes Solo As The Jackson 5 Begins To Fall Apart With Motown


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To bring in more sales, Motown and Joe decided that Michael should start a solo career as well. In November of 1971, “Got to Be There” was released, followed by “Ben” which reached #1 on the charts.

Meanwhile, record sales and popularity of the Jackson 5 began to decline. They tried to change their sound to match the growing popularity of disco music, releasing “Get It Together,” and “Dancing Machine.” At this point, the eldest sons began to lose interest in working with Motown. Although they were the record label’s most successful group of all time, Motown required too much creative control and took plenty of money away from the group in royalties. In fact, the group was only receiving 2.8% of royalties.

Problems At Home Bring About A Move For Joe


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In 1973, Katherine Jackson learned that Joe had been engaged in a long-term extramarital affair. She began divorce proceedings but changed her mind. She filed for divorce again in 1982, citing the alleged affair, but once again rescinded the motion.

At that time, Joe moved to Las Vegas while Katherine remained in Encino to raise the children. The two deny that they were ever estranged, and they remained legally married until Joe’s death in 2018.

The Jackson Family Hits The Small Screen


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The Jackson siblings received their own variety show in 1976. Titled “The Jacksons,” the weekly 30-minute long show featured all of the Jackson siblings except Jermaine. The Jacksons made history as it was the first variety show to star siblings. Michael was the lead singer/dancer.

CBS debuted The Jacksons in 1976 and it ran for 12 episodes, with the last airing on March 9, 1977. Guest stars included Sonny Bono, Betty White, Redd Foxx, and David Letterman.

Joe Jackson Hustles, Once Again


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Seeing the money slipping from his hands, Joe Jackson organized both his boys and girls to become a nightclub act in Vegas. He also negotiated a contract with Epic Records, where the group would receive 20% of royalties and had full creative control by their second recording.

The move to Epic proved to be a good one, as the Jackson 5’s first self-titled album with the recording label went gold, and their single “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” became Epic’s best-selling single to date, selling over one million copies.

Things were going well for the group, until they weren’t.

Rumors Of Michael Jackson Leaving The Group


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While the group saw success with their new recording label, Michael’s solo career began to take off. Between Jackson 5 albums, Michael released “Off the Wall” on August 10, 1979. The album turned out to be a huge success and is certified eight times platinum in the United States today.

His brothers became uneasy with Michael’s solo success, and rumors of the young artist departing from the group began to make their rounds. Instead of focusing on the group, Michael’s attention diverted to recording his sixth solo album, “Thriller.”

Thriller Sets Michael Apart


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Michael’s 1982 album “Thriller” made things even more uncomfortable for the Jackson 5, as the group sat in the shadow of young Michael’s success. “Thriller” eventually became the best-selling album of all time, and sold over 66 million copies worldwide.

However, the brothers decided to embark on a tour together as the Jackson 5. This Victory Tour was to be a three-month-long extravaganza with 55 individual dates. Above, the brothers (along with actor Emmanuel Lewis) announce the upcoming tour.

The Victory Tour (And Especially Michael) Received Rave Reviews


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In 1984 the Jackson 5 hit the road for the Victory Tour. Nearly two million adoring fans came to see the show. Fans traveled from across the nation to see the Jackson 5 in the flesh.

The crowd absolutely loved the concert, but Michael stole the show. One People review reported that although “the other Jacksons have their moments, Michael seizes center stage and holds it. Resplendent in a silver sequined jacket with a red-and-white sash (one of his four costumes), he leaps into the air, freezes, whips about, drops to one knee and curls into a fetal position.”

Tensions And Departures Following The Victory Tour


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During the tour, tensions were at an all-time high for the brothers. Arguments with marketing, promotion, and overall friction between family members began pulling them apart. After their final performance of the tour at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Michael announced that he was leaving the group.

Although his official departure from the Jackson 5 made the biggest news, some of Michael’s siblings soon followed him in leaving the group.

2300 Jackson Street Was The End Of An Era


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In January 1985, Marlon also announced his departure from the band in order to pursue a solo career. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Randy went on to release an album called “2300 Jackson Street” five years later. The title references the Jackson family home in Gary, Indiana.

The album was not a commercial success, although the quartet did go on tour to promote it. This was the last album they recorded together, although there were family reunions to come over the years.

Joe Jumpstarts Janet’s Musical Career


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In 1982, Joe began working on establishing a solo career for daughter Janet. She was 16 at the time and although she’d appeared on television, on the family’s variety show as well as Good Times and Fame, was about to become a major musical sensation.

Joe financed the recording of Janet’s first album and also served as her manager, scoring her a recording contract with A & M Records. Her debut album was titled “Janet Jackson” and the year after its release, Janet was the highest-ranking female vocalist on the Billboard Year-End Black Album Artists lists. Above are Joe and Janet in a 1972 family shot.

Janet Distances Herself From Her Father


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Joe’s reputation as a harsh and demanding father and manager affected Janet as well as the rest of the Jacksons. After the release of her second album “Dream Street,” she completely ended her business relationship with her family.

In a 1996 Boston Globe interview, she said, “I just wanted to get out of the house, get out from under my father, which was one of the most difficult things that I had to do.” She and her siblings would go on to candidly reveal more details about their father over the years.

Call Me “Joseph”


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One of the most well-known examples of the authoritarian parenting and managerial styles that Joe Jackson used was his insistence that his children refer to him as “Joe” or “Joseph,” not “Dad.” His sometimes brutal techniques led to broken relationships between him and his children.

He seemed to build financial success at the same time he destroyed personal relationships. How did this affect his legacy?

A Legend’s Death At 89


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On June 27, 2018, Joseph Walter Jackson died after a battle with pancreatic cancer. Granddaughter Paris Jackson (Michael’s daughter) took to Instagram to post a tribute in which she called him “one of the greatest patriarchs to ever live.” She added, “None of us would be anywhere near where we’re at if it weren’t for you.”

Paris also revealed that she was with her grandfather when he took his last breaths and shared a photo of her hand holding his. “Being able to tell you everything i needed to tell you before saying goodbye was such a blessing.”