Michael Jackson: Influential Black Leaders
It seems fate itself set the stage for Michael Jackson. When the musical wunderkind was born in 1958, television was in its experimental age, Billboard Magazine had just premiered its Hot 100 singles chart and the recording industry was planning the 1959 premiere of an awards show called The Grammys.
Over a career spanning five decades, Jackson would bend all these emerging cultural forces to his will. He arrived on the world stage at age 11, having already sacrificed his youth performing at venues around his Indiana hometown of Gary. Combining the soft-shoed grace of Sammy Davis Jr. with the slip-sliding exuberance of James Brown, Michael and the Jackson 5 topped the Hot 100 with their first Motown Records singles “I Want You Back” and “ABC”.
His 1979 coming-of-age solo album, Off The Wall — featuring the self-penned hit “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” — raised the bar for dance music production. The singer’s 1982 follow-up LP, Thriller, was so successful in assimilating world music styles that it rocketed to No. 1 in most countries, including apartheid-era South Africa. It was the first LP to place seven top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, while nabbing a record-breaking eight Grammys. Thriller remains the best-selling album ever, having moved an undisputed 100 million copies worldwide.
Through his visionary music videos, Jackson established not only his musical mastery, but a quirky fashion sense that incorporated multizippered jackets and a single sequined glove. His videos were so powerful that Epic Records threatened to censure MTV if the fledgling network did not break with its tacit segregationist content policy and broadcast them. Ironically, the videos for “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and Thriller not only created unprecedented consumer demand for MTV, they also demonstrated the universal appeal of black music, opening a mainstream entry point for rap.
Jackson shattered so many industry norms and sales records that he justifiably proclaimed himself the “King of Pop.” But greatness came at a price. Through cosmetic enhancements, Jackson morphed into an androgynous, powder-complected waif. He married and divorced Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, followed by marriage to a nurse who bore him two children. He successfully fended off multiple allegations of child molestation, but at the sacrifice of his once squeaky-clean image.
Today, Jackson haunts the charts in the form of The Weeknd, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake and countless other acts he influenced. Forbesnamed him the highest-earning celebrity of 2016. He remains the multiplatinum standard, a symbol of near-unattainable excellence in entertaining. – Bruce Britt