While Motown artists of the 60’s were the first black artists to break down the commercial barriers between black and white music, Michael Jackson almost singlehandedly shredded the historically imposed barrier. Starting with the Jackson 5, he and his brothers tore down the last vestiges of “race music” to become truly international superstars. Almost everyone old enough to remember the 5 brothers, led by “little” Michael performing on television or the stage has a favorite memory associated with the music of Michael Jackson.
Unlike previous greats, such as Elvis and the Beatles, the fact that Michael grew up before our eyes starting as a child himself extended his popularity into a whole generation of pre-teens – a heretofore untapped market wherein previous pop artists had concentrated on the teen market. What this did was to build an audience of fans broader than any artist before, and more loyal than any artist since.
My fondest Michael Jackson music moments were during the “Off the Wall” period, in my 20’s.
I had befriended a guy from work whose parents had immigrated here from India. He was the first generation born here in the United States, and grew up here. We were both at this point seriously dating the women we would eventually marry. One of the reasons for the friendship had to do with similarities in our background. Coming out of growing up in the 60’s, as a minority you tended to have two (or more) very separate and distinct groups of friends, with the oldest group based on the racial environment prevalent in the country during the era. The folks from the “hood” you grew up with and went to school with, and the sometimes eclectic collection of people you met professionally in the now integrated work world.
Our friends invited us to a “hood” party at their place. Brave new world here – socially what do you expect? At a black folks “hood” party, you expect music and dancing. At a white folks party (at the time), you expected a lot of standing around, drinking wine or beer, and conversation, principally to the soundtrack of rock musicians (at least until disco took over). So what could we expect at a party of principally 20 something Indian folks?
Turned out to be Michael Jackson, and some serious footwork stepping to the music. A seriously fun party.
Having just come back from a trip to Asia, where I had heard Michael Jackson’s music being played on a radio in Korea in a shop – I realized something…
Michael Jackson was a worldwide phenomena, and even before the release of Thriller – quite possibly the biggest thing to hit pop music at least since the Beatles… And possibly ever. He crossed the oceans, and cultures, and grabbed a market worldwide.