Inductees: Jackie Jackson (vocals; born May 14, 1951), Jermaine Jackson (vocals, bass; born December 11, 1954), Marlon Jackson (vocals; born March 12, 1957), Michael Jackson (vocals; born August 29, 1958, died June 25, 2009), Tito Jackson (vocals, guitar; born October 15, 1953)
In the words of Motown founder Berry Gordy, the Jackson 5 were “the last big stars to come rolling off my assembly line.” After performing for much of the decade in and around their native Indiana, the Jackson 5 found their way to Detroit’s hitmaking Motown Records at the tail end of the Sixties. Led by a pre-teen Michael Jackson — who was joined by brothers Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Jackie — the Jackson 5 were young, fresh and full of energy. As Billboard magazine noted, “The five young brothers were the symbol of a new era at Motown.”
The group made music-business history when their first four Motown singles shot to Number One in 1970. Released over a nine-month period, that string of 45s – "I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There" – endeared the hard-working Jacksons to a public that found their soulful singing and tight choreography an entertaining diversion from all the social and political cataclysms weighing upon the country. Like all of Motown’s acts, the Jackson 5’s popularity transcended race. Everyone loved the Jackson 5, and the cherubic, charismatic Michael was especially captivating.
The reasons for their out-of-the-box success boiled down to a simple truth: “The singing and the songs make us happy,” wrote soul-music biographer David Ritz. “They are moments of incandescent beauty – young, wildly optimistic.”
The Jackson 5 rose from humble circumstances in Gary, Indiana. They were the eldest sons in a family of nine children born to steelworker Joe Jackson and his wife Katherine. Joe himself played guitar in an R&B band called the Falcons. When he realized that his offspring had talent, he devoted himself to molding them into a well-rehearsed group that covered Motown and other soul/R&B hits of the day. Michael Jackson was only six years old when they formed in 1964, but his natural gifts for singing, dancing and entertaining belied his youth.
They performed at talent shows and as opening acts on bills that took them to places like Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where they won an amateur-night competition in 1967. All the while, Michael Jackson studied the moves of the masters: their onstage choreography, how they phrased a song, the way they worked a crowd. His heroes and tutors included James Brown, Sam and Dave, Jackie Wilson, Etta James and his older brother, Jermaine, who himself was a disciple of Marvin Gaye. The Jackson 5 also absorbed a considerable measure of influence from another “family” act: the prototypical soul/funk crossover band Sly and the Family Stone. As a youthful act specializing in vocal-group soul, they derived much inspiration from Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, too.
The Jackson 5 wound up at Motown through the efforts of Bobby Taylor, a Motown singer, bandleader (Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers) and producer. One night in the summer of 1968, the Jackson 5 opened for Taylor at Chicago’s legendary Regal nightclub. The brothers were a road-tested act even then, having worked the “chitlin’ circuit” of black theaters and nightclubs as far east as Washington D.C. Taylor spirited the Jackson 5 to Detroit, where he worked to get them a deal with Motown. After watching a tape of their routine, Gordy – who’d by then moved to Los Angeles – called Taylor in the middle of the night with these instructions: “You sign those boys, and do it now. Take ‘em in the studio and start working.”
At Motown, Gordy took a hands-on interest in the group. With Diana Ross having left the Supremes, the Jackson 5 were poised to inherit the torch and carry Motown’s success forward into the Seventies. Much of the Jackson 5’s early repertoire was written, rehearsed and recorded in California under Gordy’s tutelage. In fact, the group lived at his Hollywood mansion for a year while they refined their act. “In some ways, the three-ring circus that took over my home in the Hollywood Hills reminded me of the old days at Hitsville,” Gordy wrote of the Jacksons in his autobiography, To Be Loved.
The Jackson 5 worked with “The Corporation,” a Motown songwriting and production team groomed to replace the recently departed Holland-Dozier-Holland. The four-man Corporation consisted of Freddie Perren, Alphonso “Fonce” Mizell and Deke Richards, plus Gordy himself. In January 1970, their first production for the Jackson 5, “I Want You Back,” reached Number One on the pop and R&B charts. Its followup, “ABC,” unseated the Beatles’ “Let It Be” from the top position. “The Love You Save” followed it to Number One two months later. “I’ll Be There,” their biggest hit, remained on top for five weeks in the fall of 1970.
Their funky, youthful sound got dubbed “bubblegum soul.” By the summer of 1970, the Jackson 5 were headlining 20,000-seat venues, and Jacksonmania was in full swing. They conquered television as well as radio, appearing regularly on The Ed Sullivan Show in the early Seventies and on their own CBS summer variety show in 1976. An animated Saturday-morning cartoon show based on the musical adventures of the Jackson 5 enhanced their appeal with younger fans.
Their tenure at Motown continued until the mid-Seventies, by which time they’d begun to turn their attention to the emerging disco movement with hits like “Dancing Machine” (Number Two, 1974). Moving to Epic in 1976, the Jackson 5 shortened their name to the Jacksons. Jermaine Jackson quit the group, staying behind to launch a solo career at Motown, and was replaced by the youngest Jackson brother, Randy. The Jacksons’ first two albums for the new label, The Jacksons and Goin’ Places, were produced by Philadelphia soul masters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
The Jacksons entered another successful phase in their career with a trio of contemporary dance-oriented R&B albums — Destiny (1978), Triumph (1980) and Victory (1984) — which were produced and largely written by the increasingly autonomous group. Their highly publicized 1984 Victory Tour turned out to be the last Jacksons project to include brother Michael, who had by then achieved solo superstardom. Clan patriarch Joe Jackson and boxing promoter Don King were among the co-promoters of the Victory tour, which was sponsored by Pepsi. Ticket prices were fixed at a then-exorbitant $30. When controversy ensued, Michael Jackson announced that he would donate his share of the proceeds to charity.
In 1989, the Jacksons (sans Michael) released their seventh Epic album, 2300 Jackson Street, whose title referred to the street address in Gary, Indiana, where the family’s incredible story began. The Jacksons regrouped in September 2001 for an all-star concert tribute to Michael Jackson held at Madison Square Garden. The sad final gathering of all the Jackson siblings occurred in July 2009, when Michael’s five brothers served as pallbearers at his funeral.