The Jackson Five

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The Jackson Five

When Motown recording artists, the Jackson Five, burst upon the music scene in 1969, this group of five brothers followed an extremely successful career trajectory that launched the youngest brother, Michael Jackson, into superstardom. But as a group, the Jackson Five was more than the sum of its parts, or even the sum total of Michael Jackson's charisma: all of the brothers were talented singers and songwriters in their own right. During the 1970s, they enjoyed a lengthy string of hit singles, becoming the most popular black soul vocal group of all time.

The Jackson Five were comprised of Jackie Jackson (born May 4, 1951), Tito Jackson (born Oct. 15, 1953), Marlon Jackson (born Mar. 12, 1957), Jermaine Jackson (born Dec. 11, 1954) and Michael Jackson (born Aug. 29, 1958)—all of whom sang. The five brothers were born into a very large family run by authoritative patriarch, Joseph Jackson, an aspiring amateur musician who occasionally played around their hometown of Gary, Indiana. In addition to those five brothers, there were three sisters (Rebbie, La Toya and Janet) and one brother, Randy Jackson, who joined the group when they moved to Columbia Records and were re-dubbed the Jacksons.

The Jacksons were a musical family. Joseph and his wife Katherine often led the brothers in singing harmony-rich songs in the family's living room during their childhood. As the result of constant practice overseen by Joseph, the boys—soon dubbed the Jackson Five—evolved into a popular regional act that eventually came to the attention of Motown president and founder Berry Gordy. In 1969 Motown signed the group, and their first single, "I Want You Back," went to number one on the Billboard Pop charts in January of 1970.

This began a string of thirteen top-twenty pop singles, including "ABC," "I'll Be There," "Never Can Say Goodbye," "Mama's Pearl," and "Dancing Machine," among others. The Jackson Five were among the last groups to produce hits following Motown's tradition of using in-house songwriting and recording teams, a practice that had become increasingly infrequent once Motown artists Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder had begun to break out on their own. And soon, the assembly line Motown production techniques began to displease the maturing Jackson brothers, who also demanded more artistic control. It was this issue that led to their departure from Motown, prompting both a $20 million law suit by Motown for breach of contract, and the family's first major split, when Jermaine stayed with Motown, while his brothers signed with Epic Records in 1976. Randy Jackson filled Jermaine's shoes and the group was renamed The Jacksons.

During the 1970s, the Jackson Five virtually formed a franchise, with regular tours, an animated cartoon featuring the brothers, and a 1976 variety show hosted by the brothers. Eventually, both Michael and Jermaine struck out on their own as solo artists, with the others soon to follow. Michael Jackson, of course, became the most successful solo artist of the family. His fame reached its apex with 1983's Thriller, which sold over 45 million copies worldwide, charted at number one in every Western country, generated an unprecedented seven Top Ten singles, and won eight Grammys. Even though none of the other brothers have ever come close to rivaling Michael Jackson's commercial sales, the brothers have remained a near constant, though not overwhelming presence on the R&B charts. And while Michael Jackson's career began to decline after a series of scandals and a couple of poor selling albums (HIStory and Blood on the Dance Floor), sister Janet Jackson's career remained strong through the end of the 1990s. The Jackson family's omnipresence in popular culture from 1969 to the end of the millennium has guaranteed their status as a de facto musical dynasty.

—Kembrew McLeod

Further Reading:

Morse, Charles, Ann Morse, and John Keely. Jackson Five. New York, Creative Ed., 1974.

Taylor, Paula. On Stage with the Jackson Five. New York, Creative Ed., 1975.