The Early Life of the King of Pop

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With almost 200 awards, including 26 American Music Awards, 15 Grammy Awards, 13 number one U.S. singles, and 3 Presidential Awards (not to mention breaking or setting nearly 40 Guinness World Records), and lifetime album sales that have exceeded 1 billion, it’s small surprise that Michael Jackson is regarded as the “King of Pop”, and has been named Artist of the Year, Decade, Century, and Millennium by multiple critics, music award bodies, scholars, and even world leaders.

But to get to where he went, Michael had to go through a difficult childhood that was wrought with long nights of rehearsals, constant whippings from his father, media speculation, and other hardships that MJ tried to hide as much as possible. This is the early life of the King of Pop.

Life with the Jackson 5

Michael Jackson’s first foray into show business began in 1964, when Marlon and Michael joined the Jackson Brothers. The Jackson Brothers was a band formed by their musician father Joe Jackson, and included MJ’s siblings Jermaine, Jackie, and Tito. MJ and Marlon joined the band as back-up musicians, playing tambourine and bongos and other odd instruments. However, by 1965, Michael had begun sharing lead vocals with older brother Jermaine, as Michael had started showing his vocal prowess early on. By this time, the band had officially changed their name from the Jackson Brothers to the now-legendary Jackson 5.

By 1966, The Jackson 5 had won a talent show, with MJ performing a dance to Robert Parker’s ‘Barefootin’ and singing the lead vocals for a cover of ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations. Over the next couple of years, the group had started touring the ‘Chitlin Circuit’, a string of clubs predominantly performed in, and frequented, by African Americans. At the tender age of 10, Michael Jackson had already started opening for legends like Etta James, the O’Jays, Sam & Dave, and even Gladys Knight. In August of 1967, the Jackson 5 had won an amateur night concert in the iconic Apollo Theater in Harlem, something that made a huge impact on Michael and solidified not just his place as a performer, but started him on the road to stardom.

In 1968, The Jackson 5 had started recording several songs for Steeltown Records, a Gary Record Label, with their first single “Big Boy” being released in the same year. Soon enough, Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers took the Jackson 5 to Motown records, prompting the entire Jackson family to relocate from Gary, Indiana, to Los Angeles, California.

By 1969, Diana Ross was tasked with introducing The Jackson 5 to the whole world, prompting the groups first televised appearance at the Miss Black America Pageant, performing a cover of “It’s Your Thing”. Their appearance led Rolling Stones magazine to call Michael Jackson ‘a prodigy with overwhelming musical gifts’, thereby solidifying his place as the lead singer and primary draw of the band.

However, despite this meteoric rise to success, not everything was going well: Michael and his brothers were often physically, verbally, and emotionally abused by their father Joe, who would regularly beat the Jackson children for the smallest infractions during rehearsal. Most of these anecdotes come from Michael himself, who described his childhood as both ‘lonely and isolated’. Although most of the Jackson siblings didn’t see Joe Jackson’s punishments as abusive (seeing it more as a form of discipline), it’s clear that it affected Michael deeply. In one story, Michael claims that his father would hit him with a metal rod for every misstep in his dance practice. This was an effort to make it seem effortless during the shoot, which it was, but what a price to pay for young Michael!

Michael Jackson’s Education

But what school did young Michael Jackson attend? Many people ask about Michael Jackson’s education all the time, with many assuming that he was home schooled. However, this is not the case.

So where did Michael Jackson go to school? Well, Michael Jackson attended public grammar school in Gary, Indiana, which he attended in between recording sessions and tours until the age of 11. By the time The Jackson 5 became a nationwide sensation, Michael and his brothers had to leave school. Instead, a private tutor, Rose Fine, whom MJ loved as a second mom, tutored them for 3 hours a day, until Michael Jackson earned his diploma from the Montclair College Preparatory School.

To say that Michael Jackson got an unusual education is an understatement, but because of people like Rose Fine, MJ was given a chance at proper learning. In fact, Michael credits Rose Fine with instilling in him a life-long love for books and literature, with the King of Pop owning more than 10,000 books in the Neverland Ranch, ranging from novels, history and art books, science and philosophy texts, and many other genres of the written word. In fact, MJ was such a voracious reader that he was well known for finishing at least one book a day. It’s said that his favorite topics were history and biographies.

Education was an important aspect of MJ, something that he carried with him throughout his life. His absence of a formal education affected him deeply, and he tried to make sure that his children would receive a better education than he did. However, because of his stature as a cultural icon, his children were privately tutored from birth, only attending regular schools when he passed away in 2009.

Lasting Legacy

Michael Jackson is the King of Pop for a reason: he was instrumental in dictating pop music trends, created dozens of singles and albums that resonated with people from all walks of life and from all around the world, not to mention transforming the music scene by paving the way for the creation of the modern music videos. Michael Jackson was also crucial in promoting interracial diversity in both MTV and the music industry in general. His influence shifted MTV’s attention from rock and into pop and R&B, setting the tone for the music channel’s content for decades to come.

Media outlets, music experts, record labels, and multiple award bodies recognize Michael as one of the most enduring symbols of creativity, arts, and music in the 20th century, prompting Guinness World Records to crown MJ as the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time, a record he received in 2006.

Michael Jackson influenced everything he delved into, from music and dance to fashion and music videos. He has been a powerful figure around the globe, even a decade after his death. A month after his passing, the Lunar Republic Society named a crater on the moon after the King of Pop, immortalizing him in his rightful place among the stars.

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