Monday, 10 August 2009

Michael Jackson (1958-2009) The first time ever I saw his face

By Ayo Ositelu
“He that is diligent in his work, shall stand before Kings, Queens, Princes, Princesses, and not mere men,” says the Holy Book. Michael Jackson was obviously diligent in his work all his young life, and fittingly, when he died, he was buried like a ‘King’ that he was, and still is.
In the words of Berry Gordy, his early mentor, he was not just king of pop, he was “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” When news broke that Michael had passed on, one song, incidentally not Michael’s, came to mind. The song titled The first time ever I saw your face was the work of ballad singer Roberta Flack. I immediately remembered the day I met Michael, back in 1971, when he was only 13. Much has been said, written, and broadcast about the undisputed king of pop, during his action-packed life, and after the sudden demise of a true “wonder boy”, a “boy-man” who hailed from the little town of Gary, Indiana, a town which shares a border with the State of Illinois, the “land of Lincoln,” a town which is only about 30 miles away from Chicago a.k.a the “Windy City,” which I had made my home in the 1970s. Having earlier lived in Miami, Florida, precisely in Opa Locka in the Miami Dade county, and visited cities like Boston, Phoenix, New York, the “Big Apple”, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Jose, Malibu, and Indian Wells, my first comment on a weekend visit to a friend in Gary was something like: can anything good come out of this quiet and sleepy town? Hearing me think aloud, my host on whose invitation I was there answered. “This is the city, mind you, which gave the Jackson Five to the world,” my friend enlightened me. Then he asked: “Do you know that Jackson Five’s latest track single ABC has been on top of the Billboard chart in the last six weeks?” “Big deal”, I replied. “The Beatles used to churn out chart-bursting albums and singles, almost one after another, until they (Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harisson and drummer Ringo Starr) went their separate ways very recently… Even the highly successful Supremes (an all-female cast) led by Diana Ross, sang Someday we’ll be together while breaking up, and as in the case of the Beatles, never came back as one, to the disappointment of their fans around the world. So what is so special about this new group?” My friend fell just short of predicting that Gary’s Jackson Five was going to be the world’s biggest-ever. In trying to convince me, he simply concluded, “This group is something special. Sooner than later, the entire world would start singing their songs.” Unfortunately, my American friend, whom I met on the Tennis courts of Rainbow Beach in southside Chicago, died soon after, in an automobile accident. I actually loved Jackson Five’s hit song ABC, but I was not too sure about my friend’s exaggerated optimism, especially in a music world that boasted of experienced groups like the Temptations, Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Undisputed Truth, the O Jays, ‘Blood, Sweat and Tears,’ Stylistics etc. I was convinced that, even though the Jackson Five were fabulous and had exceptional natural talent, and that their lead singer (not even of teenage yet) was really “something special,” I felt there was no room in such fiercely competitive industry for such children act to survive. I was sure they would be so choked that they would have no other choice than return to their school work and do what others their age would naturally pursue –– their studies, potentially leading to College (University) scholarships in Basketball, Baseball, NFL (Gridiron) Football, or Track. At that time, Tennis, Golf, and Ice Hockey were exclusive rights of whites. While still mourning my tennis friend’s loss, other Jackson Five hits followed –– tracks like Got to be there, the love you save may be your own, I’ll be there etc which were competing favourably with Al Green’s Love and Happiness, Elton John’s My song; what’s going on by Marvin Gaye, Bridge over troubled waters by Simon and Garfonkle, Stylistics’ You made me feel brand new, We’ve only just begun by the Carpenters, Billy Withers Ain’t no sunshine, Fifth Dimension’s Acquarius, James Brown’s Sex machine, Staple Singers’ I’ll take you there, and Psychedelic, Shark by the Temptations. But it was not until the Jackson Five came out with ânother latest hit in the spring of 1971 titled Never can say goodbye, that I really began to miss my friend, Wes Michaelson, who had been trying to sell me the idea that at last, the Jackson Five was it. How I wished I had the opportunity to tell him that he had a convert in me. Michaelson was a whiteman and my doubles partner in the University of Illinois (Chicago Circle Campus) first team in Tennis. IT was during the summer of 1971, that I finally met 13-year-old Michael, the child lead-singer of a group, which had taken, not only the length and breadth of the United States, but the rest of the world, by storm. It was at the PUSH EXPO, organised by Civil Rights leader, Rev. Jesse L. Jackson at the Chicago Auditorium, in the southside of the “Windy City”, long before Basketball legend Michael Jordan a.k.a “Air” Jordan, came to Chicago, saw and conquered the world of Basketball with the Chicago Bulls, coached by Phil Jackson, the same man presently taking the Los Angeles Lakers to record breaking heights today. Operation PUSH, the creation of Revd Jackson, a former aid and understudy of the assassinated civil rights leader, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, are initials of the charity cause with a mission stated challenge –– PEOPLE United To Save Humanity The inaugural PUSH Expo, a week-long exhibition sought to highlight the outstanding achievements of African-Americans in all walks of life, ranging from politics, education, business entrepreneurship, music, acting, sports, publishing etc. On this summer day, the last day of the EXPO, it was the turn of artistes –– musicians and entertainers, who had made the blackman proud with their talent. All the who’s who, all those who have dominated music and entertainment were there, to offer their services through concerts rendered free of charge towards the Black Awareness cause championed by Rev. Jesse Jackson and his team. Having identified with the cause and often attended the Operation PUSH programmes as a member on Saturday mornings, I received a free ticket as a volunteer to the EXPO, including the Concert Day. It was there, at the Chicago Auditorium, venue of the event, that I first met music legends like Quincy Jones, Al Green, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Bill Withers, Isaac Hayes a.k.a the “Black Moses”, the Fifth Dimension, Nancy Wilson, Minnie Ripperton, Staple Singers, Sly and the family stone, James Brown, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, the O Jays, comic Bill Cosby, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, Millie Jackson (no relation of the Jackson Five), and actor Richard Roundtree. Fittingly, the best was saved for the last, with not a soul eager to leave the packed auditorium. Suddenly, Bill Cosby ushered in the “raves of the moment”, when he announced, “Na – a-a-a-o! Please welcome the Jackson Five!!! When they opened with their latest hit tune–– The love you save may be your own –– there was bedlam in the place, as the appreciative fans, old and young, men and women, sang along. Some became joyfully hysterical, and some tried fruitlessly (too much security) to touch Michael, in particular. As an unpaid volunteer, I had the privilege of meeting and shaking hands with Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlone, and then Michael, with his boyish innocence. All of them were supremely handsome, but shy and soft spoken. But when Rev. Jesse Jackson told them I hailed from Africa, Michael’s eyes lit up immediately, and asked, “You came all the way from Africa? Do they play our songs over there?” When I answered that ABC was number one in the music charts in Nigeria, Michael shouted, “That’s great! Welcome to the United States.” It was the first and only time I ever saw Michael, nor indeed other members of the group, except on TV. But from that moment, they practically became a part of me all the way, till Michael felt called upon to answer a higher calling, in music, that is. Their songs were my songs. I sang them in the bathroom, on the street, in the subway, while eating McDonald hamburgers, in-between lectures, and everywhere else. I was already back in Nigeria when Michael, as a solo artist, combined with another of my favourite legends –– music all rounder, Quincy Jones, (especially when he did big band jazz) to produce the Off the wall album in 1979. Michael’s rise to the very top of the music world did not surprise me one bit. His dancing –– from an emulation of James Brown, the Godfather of soul –– to his own innovations which blew everybody’s mind all over the world, it was sheer magic. MICHAEL did not stop there. He did not know how to stop. All he knew was making people all over the world happy with his talent, and also to constantly re-invent himself to suit his latest musical product. He sought to, and succeeded in uniting the world, breaking all barriers to make, in the words of one of his songs, “the world a better place.” As in one of his solo songs, he could “not stop until you’ve got enough.” And the world certainly could not get enough of Michael Jackson.” After that massively successful and trend-changing album came Thriller, which broke all previous world records in sales. He practically introduced the video as a marketing strategy, unmatched till this day. Michael became the biggest money making “machine” in the history of showbiz. He was an entertainer-businessman-philanthropist all rolled into one. No one invested more in charities all over the world. Never tired of success on all fronts, next came the album Bad, and when he did the moonwalk in dance to the tune Billie Jean, the world stood dazed in astonishment and admiration. Michael had lifted the music world yet again to another level. Then he sang We are the world which became the world’s anthem. In January 1993, when he sang Heal the world and Black or White during the half-time of Super Bowl XXVII, it was the closest thing to being in heavenly bliss for the screaming and adoring fans.
And heavingly bliss is what Michael is enjoying right now, in the bossom of his Creator. As a Muslim friend said to me when Michael’s death was broken to us in Badagry on that fateful June 25 day, “Unknown to us, this man (Michael) is an anobi (Yoruba for God’s messenger). He has creditably answered God’s errand while he was with us. Anywhere he is now, he is at peace, and smiling at those of us (the human race, black or white, rich or poor) he left behind.
Michael sacrificed so much for humanity that it was not until his daughter, Paris Jackson paid her dad a tearful tribute on Tuesday that we realised that he is a father to some beautiful children. Many, especially skeptics or the murderous “PHD” (Pull Him Down) holders who abound in all walks of life all over the world, even in local politics, hardly realised that Michael indeed was a dutiful and affectionate father, who as a human being, could be hurt and could bleed in the heart like the rest of us.
It took 11 year-old Paris Jackson to educate us all when she paid a tearful tribute to her father, who was lying cold and helpless in a golden casket appropriately draped with roses, a memorial beamed live to around the globe. “Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine” she sobbed “And I just want to say that I love him, so much,” Paris managed to add as she broke down in tears and collapsed in the waiting hands of her aunt, Janet.
Perhaps we all can now heed Michael’s plea –– “Leave me alone.” As Queen Latifah said, “we had him.” And as Rev Al Sharpton told Michael’s children, “there weren’t nothing strange about your daddy… It was strange what your daddy had to deal with, but he dealt with it.”

MY own family and I, will never forget you, Michael. Yours was like a soundtrack of our own lives. We sang with you, danced with you, and cried with you, in troubled times. We also will never forget the words of Rev. Sharpton, who also said, “Michael rose to the top. He outsang, outdanced and outperformed the pessimists. Every time he got knocked down, he got back up. Every time you counted him out, he came back in. Michael never stopped! Michael never stopped!! Michael never stopped!!!
The world will never stop loving you. If anyone asked for my favourite Michael song and video, it is the “Earth song.”
Only a genius could have come up with such concept. Unto the earth we were born, on to earth shall we return.
Michael’s dad, Joseph said his son would even be bigger in death than in life. How profound. How accurate.
Michael, you will live for ever, in the minds of your fans world-wide, whom you loved so much.

...The Angel Who Left
By Chris Paul Otaigbe
Watching the Michael Jackson Memorial at the Staple Center, Los Angeles, USA, Tuesday night, 7TH July,2009, I could not help but be moved to tears. I have never cried like that in all my adult life.
So did over 31 million people all America and over two billion people the world over who sat in front of television screens at home and at viewing centers watching that memorable event.
So it was that Michael Jackson united the world in life and in death.
Brooke Shields, who was the Legend’s early confidant, Date and playmate during their childhood years was overwhelmed with emotion. They were both stars and needed to become adults quickly to meet the demand of their status as world public figures in their childhood. Little Shields would tease him “I started when I was 11 months and you are just starting at five...” When Michael started wearing a glove in his hand, Shields would tease again “what’s up with gloves…” and he would look at her, shake his head and just laugh. “He loved to be teased”.
Reverend Al Sharpton was right when he said Michael never stopped doing what he knew how to do best. He was right when he said Michael ‘outsang his cynics and outdanced his doubters…’ The Reverend made the point when he said Michael charted the path that opened the way for African American Artistes and Sports talents to be accepted by the rest of the world. That could happen because the world knew Michael and Michael introduced his people to the world community.
Magic Johnson agreed with the Sharpton when he said their Jerseys could adorn homes of people around the world because Michael was already there. Michael was the Moses who led the Blacks into the hearts across racial and across class divides. Indeed his conquering Love accepted no limitations and allowed no boundaries.
He loved life and he was philosophical about it. He wanted the world to feel the life he knew was possible. In Michael’s world it was possible to cure hunger that was why he told us all ‘We are the world’. He saw a world without violence, a world where broken hearts could be healed for it to be a better place. He instructed us to ‘Heal the world’.
His favorite music, was not one of his many master pieces. According to Shields, his favorite music was Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’. When Jermaine Jackson came on stage to render the song, it made sense why Michael loved the song because through his trials and tribulations he smiled. He smiled when his heart ached; he smiled when those he trusted broke his heart. He just smiled.
He brought that smile into our hearts-his family, friends, fans and foes. Even to the dying he brought smiles. Martin Luther king’s children, Bernice and Martin Luther King III, told the story of how Michael in far away Middle East called their mother who suffered from stroke. She could not speak; she just listened to Michael speak and Michael ministered smile into her heart. That singular act was what made the day for the wife of the Legend Martin Luther King.
His art, his heart and his act were the trinity that inspired all regardless of color, creed, and class. Even the custodians of America’s democracy had to give it to Michael as the man to be remembered and honored for all time. As Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee said, the Legislative arm of the American government is debating a bill that will, permit the word ‘gazette’ the immortalization Michael Jackson.
He was preparing to give the world the best show we had yet seen. He was in high spirit, he was fit and good to go for the 50-venue tour he had lined up for London. Two days, before he left us, he had a great rehearsal and had asked his Tour Director/Choreographer; Kenny Ortega “how was it? And Ortega told him it was great. One of his Dancers who had been with for a long time (you must know that Michael got the very best in music and in dance to put his shows together) said Michael was always ahead of them. When you least expected it, he would come up with a dance routine that was new and that was ‘waoing’. This was the spirit as at the last time they left him. They were expecting him for the next rehearsal when it happened. He was gone too soon. When Usher performed the track ‘Gone Too Soon’, the message came home that indeed Michael had left us. And when he stepped down from the stage and walked to Michael as he lay covered in the casket, we all broke down. The emotion was just too much and of course, Usher crumbled under the weight of that huge emotion and broke down too.

The organizers of the event really know how to play with our emotions. They took us back to the little Michael singing a Smokie Robinson song. Smokie came on stage and told us about that little kid Berry Gordy the Motown Founder had exposed him to. He was so overwhelmed by the phenomenon of the Little Jackson kid, he needed to be sure Michael was really a 10-year old so he drew closer to know his birth certificate. From then on, he had developed a bond with Michael that even death cannot break. As he said, Michael is a firm believer of life after life.
The next act, Little Shaheen Jaforghli was the storm that took us all amidst the grief of the moment. He left us wondering who he is, where he is coming from, because he took us straight back to little Michael in flesh and blood at least from his vocal rendition. As we would get to know later, it took only Michael to dig out his own childhood. As Ortega, the Tour Director would tell us later, Jaforghli was Michael’s discovery. Little Shaheen had been invited to participate in the proposed London concert. But for his color, Shaheen would easily have been taken to be some divine representation of the Legend Michael.
To give us a peek of what would have happened had Michael been physically around; the Ortega got the Concert Cast to give us some of Michael’s numbers “We are the World”. When they sang “Heal the World” the whole world held its hands and was one for Michael.
The final words from Michael’s brothers and daughter virtually unlocked the tap of tears and got it flowing. Especially, when Paris, Michael’s daughter said Michael is the best daddy she can ever imagine.
That event was more than a Memorial; it was the celebration of Michael’s life, spirit and impact on all our lives.
For you to appreciate the impact, you need to know the level of effect that event had on virtually everyone who had a heart not necessarily for Michael but just a heart; a normal heart. If you had a heart you will be touched by the electricity Michael generated round the world even in death. He broke records and that day he broke more records and showed the world that he was not just the king of pop, but the true king of music. He stamped his authority as the greatest entertainer of all time.
The audience that watched Jackson memorial is virtually identical to the number of people who watched the reading of the live-Jackson trial verdict in June of 2005.
It’s also on par with the number of people who watched Kris Allen crowned the latest “American Idol.”
It’s about 10 million more people than watched President Reagan’s funeral in 2004.
It’s about 6 million fewer viewers than watched the most recent “Academy Awards.”
And it’s less than half the crowd that collected in front of their sets to watch President Clinton’s apology address to the nation in August of ‘98.
British publications reported another 6 million watched Jackson’s memorial in the UK.
Only a legend could have pulled this stunt. That kind of Legend as we know it could only have pulled it only once-either dead or alive. But the difference is that with Michael, he would have pulled it anyway and ‘any which way’ alive or dead.

Michael could do this and would pull it time and time again, because he had a pure heart that housed the childlike spirit Jesus Christ told us is what we need to make Heaven. He loved us all, just the way he loved himself. The Love Jesus Christ said is one the two major keys to the door of Heaven. He had it excess and he ministered it us all in appropriate and sufficient quantity. Only Angels have been given such gifts to give humanity to show the wonders of God’s world to the glory of the Almighty Himself.
Michael was the Angel who came dazzled us in his spell-binding moves, overwhelmed us with his charm, charity and humanity. He was the Angel who left us…too soon.

Otaigbe is Associate Editor, Africa Oil and Gas Report;

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