The Jackson 5, or Jackson Five, currently known as The Jacksons, is a popular American family music group. Formed in 1964 under the name the Jackson Brothers, the founding members were elder brothers Jackie, Tito and Jermaine. Younger brothers Marlon and Michael would join soon after. They participated in talent shows and performed in clubs on the Chitlin’ Circuit. They entered the professional music scene in 1967. Signing with Steeltown Records and releasing two singles with the Steeltown label. In 1969, the group left Steeltown Records and signed with Motown.
The Jackson 5 was one of the first groups of black American performers to attain a crossover following, preceded by the Supremes, the Four Tops and the Temptations. They were also the first group to debut with four consecutive number one hits on the Hot 100 with the songs I Want You Back, ABC, The Love You Save, and I’ll Be There. Scoring 16 top forty singles on the Hot 100, after continuing with further hits such as “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Dancing Machine”, most of the group with the exception of Jermaine, left Motown for Epic Records in 1975. At that time, with brother Randy taking Jermaine’s place, they released five albums between 1976 and 1981, including the hit albums, Destiny (1978) and Triumph (1980), and the hit singles, “Enjoy Yourself”, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” and “Can You Feel It”. In 1983, Jermaine reunited with the band to perform on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever and subsequently released the Victory album the following year. After the end of their tour to promote the album, Michael and Marlon Jackson promptly left the group. The remaining four released the poorly received 2300 Jackson Street album in 1989 before being dropped from their label.
Inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, the Jacksons reunited in 2001 on Michael’s 30th anniversary television special. Following the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, the four eldest of the brothers embarked on their Unity Tour in 2012, and have several major performances planned for 2017.
The five Jackson brothers’ interest in music began in Gary, Indiana, bolstered by their father, Joe Jackson. In 1964, Joe caught Tito playing with his guitar after a string broke. Upon fixing the string, threatening punishment, Tito’s father had him play and was impressed enough to buy him his own guitar. Along with their father, Tito, Jermaine and Jackie formed their own group, named “the Jackson Brothers,” with a six-year-old Michael playing congas and childhood buddies Reynaud Jones and Milford Hite playing keyboards and drums, respectively. Marlon, then seven years old, eventually joined, playing the tambourine. In August 1965, before a show at Gary’s Tiny Tots Jamboree held on Michael’s seventh birthday, Evelyn LaHaie suggested the group rename themselves “the Jackson Five Singing Group”, later shortened simply to “the Jackson Five”.
In 1966, the group won a talent show at Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt High School, where Jermaine performed several Motown numbers, including the Temptations’ “My Girl” and Michael performed Robert Parker’s “Barefootin'”, winning the talent show instantly. Johnny Jackson and Ronnie Rancifer eventually replaced Milford Hite and Reynaud Jones. After several more talent show wins, Joe Jackson booked his sons to perform at several respected music venues of the chitlin’ circuit, including Chicago’s Regal Theater and Harlem’s Apollo Theater, winning the talent competitions on both shows in 1967. After they won the Apollo contest on August 13, 1967, singer Gladys Knight sent a tape of the boys’ demo to Motown Records, hoping to get them to sign, only to have their tape rejected and sent back to Gary. In November 1967, Joe Jackson signed the group’s first contract with Gordon Keith, an owner and producer of Steeltown Records, and the Jackson Five recorded and released two singles, “Big Boy” which was sung by Michael and “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21”. During early 1968, the group also performed at strip clubs on Joe’s behest to earn extra income.
While performing a week-long run of shows at the Regal Theater as the opening act for Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers, an impressed Taylor sent the Jacksons to Detroit to help with their Motown audition, which was set for July 23 at Motown’s headquarters on Woodward Avenue. Following the taped audition, which was sent to CEO Berry Gordy’s office in Hollywood, Gordy originally turned them down again, since he had Stevie Wonder in his spotlight, but later changed his mind, and had requested the group to be signed, with final negotiations completed by early 1969, leading to the group to be signed on March 11. Following initial recordings at Detroit’s Hitsville USA studio, Berry Gordy sent the Jacksons to Hollywood in July, hiring Suzanne de Passe to become a mentor of the brothers.
Starting in August, the Jackson Five performed as the opening act for the Supremes, whose lead singer Diana Ross was planning to leave for a solo career at the end of the year. After performing at the Daisy in Los Angeles and at the Miss Black America Pageant in New York, the group recorded their first single, “I Want You Back”, written by a newly assembled Motown team called the Corporation, which consisted of three composers and songwriters Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and Alphonzo Mizell with Gordy as a fourth partner. In October, their first single for Motown was released and the group promoted it while performing at the Hollywood Palace with Ross hosting. In December, the brothers made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Afterwards, their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, was released that same month.
In January 1970, “I Want You Back” topped the Billboard Hot 100. Led by the Corporation, the Jackson 5 released two more number-one singles, “ABC” and “The Love You Save”. A fourth single, “I’ll Be There”, co-written and produced by Hal Davis, became the band’s fourth number-one single, making them the first recording act to have their first four singles reach the top of the Hot 100. All four singles were almost as popular in other countries as they were in the United States. Releasing a succession of four albums in one year, the Jackson 5 replaced the Supremes as Motown’s best-selling group. They continued their success with singles such as “Mama’s Pearl”, “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Sugar Daddy”, giving them a total of seven top ten singles within a two-year period.
As the Jackson Five became Motown’s main marketing focus, the label capitalized on the group’s youth appeal, licensing dozens of products, including the J5 heart logo located on Johnny Jackson’s drum set, the group’s album covers, stickers, posters and coloring books, as well as a board game and a Saturday morning cartoon series produced by Rankin/Bass. In view of their lack of covers on otherwise predominantly white teen-oriented magazines including Tiger Beat and Seventeen, a black publication, Right On!, began in 1971 and initially focused heavily on the Jackson 5, with at least one of the five members adorning a single cover between January 1972 and April 1974. In addition, the Jackson 5 appeared in several television specials including Diana Ross’ 1971 special, Diana!. Later that September, they starred on their first of two Motown-oriented television specials, Goin’ Back to Indiana; their second, The Jackson 5 Show, debuted in November of the following year. During the Vietnam War period, the group was often joined by Bob Hope on USO-benefited performances to support military troops.
In order to continue increasing sales, Motown launched Michael Jackson’s solo career in 1971, with the single, “Got to Be There”, released in November of that year. Following several top 40 follow-ups, Jackson’s 1972 song, “Ben”, became his first to top the charts. Jermaine Jackson was the second to release a solo project; his most successful hit of the period was a cover of the doo-wop song, “Daddy’s Home”.
Decline and exit
By 1972, despite Michael and Jermaine’s solo successes, the Jackson 5’s own records began plummeting on the charts. Partially credited to the changing musical landscape, the Corporation, which had produced most of their hit singles, split up in 1973. Focusing their attention on the emerging disco scene, the brothers recorded the charted song, “Get It Together”, followed by their hit, “Dancing Machine”, their first to crack the top ten since “Sugar Daddy” nearly three years before. Despite those successes, most of the Jackson 5’s follow-ups were not as successful and by 1973, Joe Jackson had grown tired of Motown’s uneasiness to continue producing hits for the brothers. Jackson began producing a nightclub act around his sons and daughters, first starting in Las Vegas and spreading throughout the states.
By 1975, most of the Jacksons opted out of recording any more music for Motown desiring creative control and royalties. Learning that they were earning only 2.8% of royalties from Motown, Joe Jackson began negotiating to have his boys sign a lucrative contract with another company, settling for Epic Records, which had offered a royalty rate of 20% per record, signing with the company in June 1975. Absent from the deal was Jermaine Jackson, who decided to stay in Motown, followed by his marriage to Berry’s daughter Hazel. Randy Jackson formally replaced him. After initially suing them for breach of contract, Motown allowed the group to record for Epic, as long as they changed their name, since the name Jackson 5 was owned by Motown. The brothers renamed themselves, simply, the Jacksons.
The Jacksons CBS/Epic Records
In November 1976, following the debut of the family’s weekly variety series, the Jacksons released their self-titled Epic debut under the Philadelphia International subsidiary, produced by Gamble & Huff. Featuring “Enjoy Yourself” and “Show You the Way to Go”, the album went gold but failed to generate the sales the brothers had enjoyed while at Motown. A follow-up, Goin’ Places, fizzled. Renewing their contract with Epic, the Jacksons were allowed full creative control on their next recording, Destiny, released in December 1978. Featuring their best-selling Epic single to date, “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)”, written by Michael and Randy, the album sold over a million copies. Its follow-up, 1980’s Triumph, also sold a million copies, spawning hits such as “Lovely One” and “Can You Feel It”. In 1981, they released their fifth album, a live album that eventually sold half a million copies. The live album was culled from recordings of performances on their Triumph Tour. In between the releases of Destiny and Triumph, Michael Jackson released the best-selling solo effort, Off the Wall. Its success led to rumors of Jackson’s alleged split from his brothers. After Triumph, Jackson worked on his second Epic solo release, which was released in November 1982 as Thriller, which later went on to become the best-selling album of all time, winning eight Grammy Awards including Album of the Year, plus the two number one hits singles “Billie Jean,” and “Beat It,” and three breakthrough MTV music videos “Billie Jean,” “Beat,” and 14 minute zombie music video “Thriller.”
In March 1983, with Jermaine, the Jacksons performed on Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, the same show where Michael debuted the moonwalk during a solo performance of “Billie Jean”. Following the success of the reunion, all six brothers agreed to record a sixth album for Epic, later released as Victory in 1984. Their biggest-selling album to date, it included their final top ten single, “State of Shock”. The song was actually a duet between Michael and Mick Jagger and didn’t feature participation from any other Jackson besides Marlon and Jackie who were credited as background vocalists. Most of the album was produced in this way, with each brother essentially recording solo songs. Another hit was the top 20 single “Torture”, a duet between Michael and Jermaine, with Jackie singing several parts. In the same year, the brothers participated in a Pepsi Commercial where Michael suffered burns to his scalp due to a pyrotechnic fault, followed by his recovery, he continued filming the commercial. In July 1984, the Jacksons launched their Victory Tour, which was overshadowed by Jackie’s leg injury, ticket issues, friction between the brothers, and a shakeup in the promotion and marketing team, initially headed by Don King, who was later fired. Michael announced he was leaving the group after their final performance at Dodger Stadium that December to continue his solo career follow by his worldwide best-selling album Thriller. The following January, Marlon Jackson also announced he was leaving the group to pursue a solo career. In 1989, five years after their last album, the remaining quartet of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Randy released 2300 Jackson Street, which performed badly on the charts. After a brief promotional tour, the band went into hiatus and never recorded another album together.
In September 2001, nearly 17 years after their last performance together, all six Jackson brothers reunited for two performances at Madison Square Garden for a 30th anniversary special commemorating Michael’s solo career, which aired in November. In early 2009, the four elder brothers began filming a reality show to make their attempt on reuniting the band, later debuting in December 2009 as The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty. During the middle of the project, Michael had announced his concert comeback in London was scheduled on July 13, 2009. Michael died that same year on June 25, putting efforts on halt.
Later in 2009, following the death of brother Michael, the surviving Jacksons recorded background vocals for a previously unreleased song, “This Is It” (the theme for the movie of the same name), which had originally been a demo. The radio-only single was released in October of that same year. The song did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100, but charted at number nineteen on Billboards Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks. “This Is It” returned the Jacksons to the chart. The surviving members of the Jacksons were in talks of planning a reunion concert tour (which was to be served as a tribute to Michael) for 2010, and were in talks in working on their first new studio album in over 20 years. However, neither plan was put into action.
The Jacksons: Unity Tour
In September 2010, Jermaine Jackson held his own “tribute” concert to Michael in Las Vegas. In 2011, Jackie Jackson released a solo single to iTunes, while Jermaine released his first solo album in 21 years, I Wish U Love. Following the release of one solo album, Marlon Jackson quit the music business in 1989 and invested in real estate. Randy Jackson hasn’t been active in the industry since he disbanded the group Randy & the Gypsys in 1991.
In August 2011, there appeared to be a discord between the brothers concerning a tribute concert dedicated to Michael. While Jackie, Tito and Marlon were present alongside mother Katherine and sister La Toya for a tribute concert in Cardiff at the Millennium Stadium for a press conference concerning the tour, a couple of days after the press conference, both Randy and Jermaine issued a statement denouncing the tribute tour as the date of it occurred around the time of Conrad Murray’s manslaughter trial in relation to Michael’s death. The show carried on with Jackie, Tito and Marlon performing without Jermaine. In April 2012, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon announced that they would reunite for several United States concerts for their Unity Tour. Thirty-eight dates were announced, however, eleven shows in the U.S. were canceled. The tour started at Casino Rama in Rama, Canada on June 20, 2012. Thirty-two additional dates were eventually added, and the tour ended on July 27, 2013 in Atlantic City, United States.
In 1980, the brothers, under their “Jacksons” moniker, were honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As “the Jackson 5” they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. Two of the band’s recordings (“ABC” and “I Want You Back”) are among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, while the latter track also included in the Grammy Hall of Fame. On September 8, 2008, the Jacksons were honored as BMI Icons at the annual BMI Urban Awards.
In 1992, Suzanne de Passe, Jermaine Jackson, and Jermaine’s then common-law wife Margaret Maldonado, worked with Motown to produce The Jacksons: An American Dream, a five-hour television miniseries broadcast based on the history of the Jackson family in a two-part special on ABC.
Influenced by the Temptations, the Supremes, James Brown, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers and Sly & the Family Stone, the group eventually served as the inspiration for several generations of boy bands, including New Edition, Menudo, New Kids on the Block, N*SYNC, the Jonas Brothers, Backstreet Boys, One Direction, and many more.
The rise of the Jackson 5 in the 1960s and 1970s coincided with the rise of a very similar musical family, the Osmonds. The Osmonds had risen to fame as regular performers on The Andy Williams Show; Jay Osmond would later note: “Michael had a unique sense of humor about him, and told us he was so tired of watching the Osmonds on The Andy Williams Show. He explained this was something their father had them do, and Michael joked he became really tired of it!” The song “One Bad Apple”, written by George Jackson, who had the Jackson Five in mind when he wrote it, was originally presented to Motown Record’s Chairman of the Board Berry Gordy for the group to record, but he turned it down. It was then presented to MGM Records for the Osmonds. “One Bad Apple”, which the Osmonds recorded in a similar style to the songs of the Jackson 5 at the time, reached number one and began a string of several hits for the Osmonds. Both bands followed a similar career trajectory: a string of several hits as a group, which eventually led to a breakout star (Michael for the Jacksons, Donny for the Osmonds) becoming a solo artist, a little sister not originally part of the group also rising to fame (Janet Jackson and Marie Osmond respectively), and eventual decline as a smaller group in the 1980s. The two groups’ members eventually became friends, despite public perception of a rivalry between the two and allegations that the Osmonds, white Mormon brothers from Utah, were an imitation of the black Jackson 5.
Jermaine Jackson – lead and backing vocals, bass guitar (1962-1975, 1983-1989, 2001, 2012-present)
Jackie Jackson – backing and lead vocals (1962-1989, 2001, 2012–present)
Tito Jackson – rhythm guitar, backing and lead vocals (1962-1989, 2001, 2012–present)
Marlon Jackson – backing and lead vocals (1964-1985, 2001, 2012–present)
Michael Jackson – lead and backing vocals (1964-1984, 2001; died 2009)
Randy Jackson – keyboards, percussion, backing and lead vocals (1975-1989, 2001)