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Michael Jackson - More Resources

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Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

By Carrie Stern

Michael Joseph Jackson—the “King of Pop,” “The Gloved One,” “Jacko”—was one the greatest pop singers of the latter half of the Twentieth Century, and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, one of the most successful entertainers of all time. The chart-crossing Jackson 5—Michael and his brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and, as The Jacksons, Randy—made up the one of the few groups in recording history to have their first four major-label singles reach the top of Billboard’s Hot 100. Their songs appeared on both the Top 5 Pop Hits and at number one on the R&B singles chart. From the moment he joined his brothers on stage, Michael’s powerful voice and diminutive dervish of a body dominated the group. As Michael’s vision outpaced the brother act, he moved into a media-breaking solo career.

Like all Motown singers, the five Jacksons—a late addition to the Motown “stable” of artists—performed tightly choreographed, often unison dancing. Even before Motown, the boys culled “moves” from their environment—television, and from the streets and social dancing in their Gary, Indiana, community. From the beginning, and throughout his life, Michael would train his body as hard as his voice. Unlike his brothers, whether by design or by temperament, Michael developed a unique movement vocabulary and style, peppering his performances with idiosyncratic, now iconic spins, steps, kicks, and slides. “Scrub away the veneer of street dances in the performance,” wrote New York Times chief dance critic Anna Kisselgoff following a Jackson solo performance at Madison Square Garden, “look past the occasional suggestive gesture and rotating pelvis, marvel at the backward gliding moonwalk and the isolated body parts—seemingly set into motion on their own—and you see a virtuoso dancer who uses movement for its own sake”(New York Times, 6 March 1988). Later in the piece, she calls him “avant-garde.”

This pattern, the performative use of innovative, well-rehearsed versions of movement from media and social dance, coupled with an innate movement sensibility, is a key to understanding Michael’s dance performance. Judith Hamera, in her article about Michael and “dancing work,” writes that Michael is the “closest thing to a consensual virtuoso performer that late-twentieth century popular culture produced.” His “ability to appear path-breakingly original in a way that is collectively obvious,” she continues, is a marker of virtuosity (Hamera, 751).

Michael’s fame as a performer, as an innovator, and as an icon, is intertwined with a complex, often partially falsified or fabricated personal history created by family, handlers, those who knew the Jacksons, and Michael himself. His life and career are further muddied by a swirl of rumors and gossip, particularly late in life, fueled by Jackson’s sometimes bizarre behavior and evolving appearance. In the vast amount of written and recorded information about Michael, only some dates, facts, and concepts are universally accepted. Many other “facts” in the Jackson’s history are reported inconsistently and inaccurately; reports on his life may contradict each other, not uncommonly in part because information is based on unsubstantiated sources, making researching Michael as much archeology as history.[i]

As I write in 2015, six years after his death, Michael Jackson’s influence continues to be felt among professional singers, and particularly among pop theatrical dancers. As a star, Jackson profoundly influenced generations of pop and popular dance. His music videos, designed for a nascent MTV, set a standard for the then-new media—it was no longer enough to boogie to your own music: dance became a theatrical device, enhancing and elaborating storytelling songs. His distinctive vision for music video is often emulated, but rarely achieved. 

The real testament to Michael’s abiding popularity, however, are the myriad Michael Jackson imitators, most simply fans. As hundreds of online videos of Jackson’s routines attest—performed by boys at parties, in school, at weddings and bar mitzvahs, on the street and in bedrooms—Michael Jackson remains the premier example of male dancing. "No dancer has done as much to popularize the art form since Fred Astaire” (one of Jackson’s own influences), wrote New York University Performance Studies Professor Tavia Nyongo following the star’s death (Smith, New York Daily News, 29 June 2009).

New views of Jackson’s performances are emerging through new performance models being fashioned by current scholars who are teasing meaning from myth and mystique. My effort here is to create a portrait of a dancer, seen through my eyes, through those of scholars and reviewers, and through Michael’s own words. (Hereafter, Michael Jackson is referred to as MJ.)

In the Beginning

Early videos of the Jackson 5 show MJ as a natural, intuitive, but not yet particularly innovative dancer. The story goes that MJ began practicing his dance moves at age five. He earned his place in his brother’s band following a kindergarten talent show rendition of the gospel song “Climb Every Mountain” that reportedly brought teachers to tears and earned him a standing ovation.[ii] Before he was eight, his song and dance routine helped his brothers win Gary Roosevelt High School’s talent competition. Dancing with his brothers in a Motown studio during their 1969 audition, MJ is as dynamic as a tiny James Brown.[iii] Snapping his fingers and swinging his arms, MJ shuffles and slides, swaying his hips over little skitter steps that pop his feet to the side. Cross-footed turns, low side-kicks, a quickly pulled-in split—all hallmarks of then-popular R&B singers and early rockers—fill out his body's musical response.[iv] Already the powerful combination of voice and body is present.  

Television performances by the Jackson 5 in the 1960s and ‘70s highlight MJ’s growing role as the group’s front-man.[v] A lively, small boy with a round face and big hair, he barely resembles the scarecrow-thin, cartoonish body he would later acquire. Singing “I Wonder Who’s Loving You Now,” MJ executes a spot-turn and a couple of unscripted kicks; his body language is that of a crooner fed through an unfinished child’s body. 

If at 11 his dancing is not yet full, the hallmarks that make him so exciting later are already appearing in his powerfully adult voice. His musicality as a dancer is profound, says Acocella. “His ability to respond to the score faithfully and yet creatively, playing with the music, moving in before and after the beat” shows the spontaneity that makes his early performances so joyful and so enduring, and his adult performances so richly musical. Perhaps most important, the intense connection with the audience in the moments between vocals, even when his head is turned away, is clear. By the time he is 21 his physical pleasure is apparent; “he hops with joy; he wags his head; his shirt comes un-tucked,” writes New Yorker dance critic Joan Acocella (27 July 2009).


Born August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana, MJ was the eighth of Katherine and Joseph (Joe)Jackson’s ten children. (Marlon’s twin, Brandon, died at birth.) Joe Jackson was a crane operator at U.S. Steel with a second job in order to support his large family. A strict disciplinarian, he was also an ambitious amateur musician, but when his R&B band, The Falcons, failed to receive a recording contract, the group broke up. He soon replaced his own musical aspirations with managing a band made up of his oldest sons—Tito on lead guitar, Jackie (first son) singing falsetto on backgrounds, and Jermaine (third son) singing lead and playing bass, and later rhythm guitar.[vi] With friends Muffy Jones and Milford Hite on guitar and drums respectively (later replaced by professional musicians Johnny Jackson—no relation—and Ronnie Rancifer), they formed the Jackson Brothers. In 1964, Marlon and six-year-old Michael joined their brothers on back-up congas and tambourine.

The group, renamed the Jackson 5 by talent agent Evelyn Lahaie, advanced through local talent shows and nightclubs.[vii] Between 1966 and 1968 the brothers played professional gigs throughout the Midwest, often in black clubs collectively known as the “chitlin' circuit,” as well as opening for strip and other “adult” acts. Their pay was often bills and coins thrown on stage. In 1967, the group was introduced to Gordon Keith, who ran a local record company, Steeltown Records.[viii]The 5 began recording in October, realizing local hits. That same year they were winners of New York City’s Apollo Theater Amateur Night.

Motown stars Gladys Knight and Bobby Taylor brought the band to the attention of Motown Records chief Berry Gordy, and in 1969 the Jackson 5 auditioned for him. MJ sang lead on James Brown’s hit, “I Got the Feelin’” dancing his best James Brown moves. Based on the audition video Gordy negotiated a buy-out of their Steeltown Records contract and signed them.[ix] Early Motown recordings, produced by Taylor, included covers of popular songs and Motown standards—music that already comprised the Jackson’s playlist.[x] It is unclear who, if anyone, shaped their onstage performances. By the time the Jackson 5 joined the Motown roster, Artist Development was no longer provided.[xi] But in the studio’s environment there were many models. Renowned Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins, who never worked with the Jacksons, remembers the young Jackson 5 standing “in the wings during performances...at [the] Motown [offices] they would sit on the stairs and watch me rehearse the other groups,” he writes. “Marlon had such a photographic memory he could duplicate the moves almost immediately. The Temps [Temptations] came to me and said, ‘You’ve given them all our routines!’”[xii]

By 1975, just six years after signing with Motown, the group split from the record company, changing their name to The Jacksons to avoid a breach of contract and recording for Epic until 1982. Their short-lived 1976 variety show on CBS (Epic’s home) was the first ever hosted by African Americans.[xiii] In 1978, minus Jermaine, the group’s double-platinum Destiny, included their most successful post-Motown single, the disco influenced “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground).” Co-written by Randy and MJ, it sold two million copies. That same year MJ starred with Diana Ross in The Wiz produced by Quincy Jones. The movie unveiled a new, dramatic MJ; for the first time dancing and singing were equal. A year later Epic released MJ’s first solo album on that label. Produced by Jones, who worked with MJ throughout his career, and recorded with Randy, Off the Wall sold 20 million copies worldwide and made MJ the first solo artist to have four songs from the same album—two at number one—in the top ten of Billboard’s Top 100. Other record-setting albums followed. That same year, ten years after leaving Indiana, The Jacksons’ star was set into the Hollywood Walk of Fame amidst speculation that MJ would leave The Jacksons. He denied it, but that was the beginning of the end.

Motown 25: “Billie Jean” and the Moonwalk

Released in November of 1982, Thriller, MJ’s second album with Quincy Jones as co-producer,overshadowed the Jacksons’ 1980 Triumph. Thriller would go on to become the world’s best-selling album of all time, winner of eight 1984 Grammy Awards.[xiv] In 1983, MJ appeared on the television special Motown 25 with his breakthrough performance of “Billie Jean,” which introduced the now iconic crotch grab, staccato pelvic thrusts, the moonwalk and—an MJ trademark—the direct-to-camera fierce gaze. The Washington Post noted that while Jackson’s voice was much the same, “Oh, how  [his moves] have changed! Michael Jackson is more dazzling than a Fourth of July fireworks display. He redefines showmanship right in front of your amazed little eyes.”[xv]

Undoubtedly, the moonwalk was the single most memorable moment of Motown 25. “The audience audibly gasp[ed] as he move[d] backward while seemingly walking forward, as if he was floating on air.”[xvi] Steven Ivory, then editor of Black Beat, remembered: “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before. I was stunned. Michael truly became a legend that night. Watching the performance on videotape pales in comparison to the exhilaration I, and everyone else who was there, felt in seeing Michael’s act in person.”[xvii] The moonwalk, “a move that evoked both deep-space androids and the rakish seducers of the old myths, completely rewrote the book on male sexuality in music,” writes LA Times music blogger August Brown (Los Angeles Times: 25 June 2009). Music critic Nelson George writes simply, “the performance [was] ‘epochal’” (George, 194-195).

Like so much about MJ, how he discovered and learned the moonwalk is cloaked in multiple histories and assertions. (For a full discussion of the many artists who performed earlier versions of this step, see the long version of this essay.) In Moon Walk, MJ himself comments: “Now the Moonwalk was already out on the street...but I enhanced it a little when I did it.”[xviii] That MJ was learning anything from the streets by the time he performed the moonwalk seems unlikely, though certainly he could have seen the step in childhood. Anna Kisselgoff sees the moonwalk as “an apt metaphor” for all that MJ is as a dancer. “As a technician, he is a great illusionist, a genuine mime. His ability to keep one leg straight as he glides while the other bends and seems to walk requires perfect timing” (New York Times, 6 March 1988). From the instant of the opening pose, MJ’s mature, unique, solo performance style, his star persona—a carefully planned and rehearsed combination of movement, song, and costume—is established.

While MJ’s Motown 25 performance of “Billie Jean” is remembered for one dance step, it was the totality of its visual impact that made the performance so important to music performance history. Marking a pivotal transition in pop music, MJ’s dancing, lip-synching performance to his own multi-layered, pre-recorded voice, contrasts vividly with the live performances that comprised the balance of Motown 25. No sooner did MJ leave the Motown 25 stage than there was a shift in performative emphasis in music business promotions. Musical performance would no longer be primarily about the music. Instead, emphasis would be placed on visual presentation, on spectacle.[xix] MJ’s Motown 25 performance “energized the music scene...set[ting] in motion all the forces that would go on to shape popular culture in the 1980s.”[xx]

Even as a child MJ’s ecstatic physicality set him apart from his brothers, who sing nearly as well but have less freedom and immediacy in their bodies. From the earliest videos his conscious care, practice and perfectionism are evident. No matter the psychological reasons behind it—and I suspect there were many—he was, to the benefit of his art, a notoriously hard worker, exacting of himself and of everyone who worked with him. In the documentary This Is It, rehearsal footage issued after his death, he works his company hard and himself harder. Nothing is left to chance. Every moonwalk, turn, and crotch grab are calculated and practiced. “The very effortlessness of his most famous moves disguised the extraordinary skill and effort needed to perform them," comments pop culture scholar Tavia Nyongo (Smith, New York Daily News, 29 June 2009). His consistent inventiveness is one of his most enticing traits. In a 1999 interview with TV Guide’s Lisa Bernhard, MJ tells her “Billie Jean” is his favorite song to perform, “But only when I don’t have to do it the same way. The audience wants a certain thing. I have to do the moonwalk in that spot. [Laughs] I’d like to do a different version” (4 December 1999).


Over the course of his long career MJ's dancing evolved from the instinctiveness of his early performances to a refined, practiced, sharply realized, if, as dance critics like to point out, small(ish) repertory of movements. “You can almost count [his steps]...on your fingers,” says Joan Acocella (New Yorker, 27 July 2009). Anna Kisselgoff writes: “you will see that the steps and sequences are often repeated. But their rhythms and phrasing are changed” (NYT, 6 March 1988). Viewing online clips, Alastair Macaulay comments that even in his best work MJ “relie[s] too often on known stunts: the crotch-grabbing and moonwalking are just the most famous of these, and on too many occasions the audience seems to be waiting for him to do” what earlier in the article Macaulay calls “tricks and special effects, all fitted to a single song” (New York Times, 26 June 2009). Despite his narrow range, the codification of movement is not inhibiting. It is, in fact, what makes his movements memorable. Specific and clearly articulated, MJ’s steps, seen many times, in many dances, are what make it possible for his routines to be learned by anyone. Better dancers imbue the steps with their own style; professional dancers add technique, nuance and qualities defined by a choreographer. But anyone can learn the Thriller routine and joyously execute it with friends at a party. 

And MJ’s performance is always striking.  “Mr. Jackson is one of those rare dancers…you’d pay just to watch him walk,” writes Macaulay. He does “it with all kinds of different dynamics, and sometimes with a rushing impetus that’s irresistible.” 

Los Angeles Times columnist Lewis Segal lists three prime elements of MJ’s dancing; “the components of his personal style are [not easy to] duplicate,” he adds. 

1. “Isolations: for example the hip pops in ‘Billie Jean’... appear “as if in a close-up, sudden and incredibly sharp.”

2. “Weightlessness: The sense of freedom from gravity…a body with no mass or muscles, just pure torque...[MJ’s]…nervy, high-velocity turns seem…to operate in zero gravity…”

3. “Transformation of the mundane: shadow-boxing and other familiar moves drawn from athletics and pop dance renewed and heightened through a spectacular sense of flow and delirious speed…his finest…performances [give] the illusion of being a momentary impulse, almost accidental in their perfect balances and other evidence of faultless technical control” (26 June 2009).

Joan Acocella notes:

The gyrating hips, the bending knees (reversing from inward to outward), the pivoting feet (ditto), the one raised knee, the spins, and, above all, the rotated or raised heel, which is what he gets around on. These steps are generally done staccato. He finishes the phrase and freezes, then finishes the next phrase and freezes…He also has some moves so natural that one hesitates to call them steps: lovely, light-footed walks, struts, jumps, and runs” (New Yorker, 27 July 2009).

Anna Kisselgoff writes:

...He takes your breath away with his rapid-fire flat-footed turns, his staccato gestures, his burst of movement from any part of the body” (NYT, 6 March 1988).

According to a number of scholars, a virtuoso is most clearly identified in contrast to the non-virtuosic. Judith Hamera highlights the distinction between MJ’s dancing and that of his brothers:

The casualness with which…spins are tossed off belies their tightness and smoothness; he looks as if he is on ice while his brothers are weighted down. In line formations, he is visibly more taut and, simultaneously, very loose-jointed. His hip-thrusts are sharper, his dimestops—(complete pauses, usually transitions between moves)—more abrupt, and his crouches with turned-in knees so extreme that they are almost grotesque. Yet these moves resolve so quickly into other steps that the group choreography seems staid by comparison…(Hamera, 753)

An inveterate borrower, MJ employed movements derived from the many dance styles that have evolved over a long history of African American popular entertainment, social and street dance—hip hop, sock hop, disco, and older forms like the Charleston. Influences from Hollywood film—in particular the dancer Fred Astaire, who singled MJ out for praise—and television’s Soul Train are all clearly visible.

Modern dance and jazz dance techniques, as well as tap, are also apparent in his dancing. “There might seem to be little connection between a modern dance company—even a wildly popular one like Alvin Ailey—and Jackson,” Ronni Favors, Rehearsal Director at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 1999, told the Daily News’ Olivia Smith. “Jackson transcended boundaries between street dancing [and]…dancing as a high-culture art form in a way no one had before.” Take for example his feet, Favors says. Their “angularity…in a position known to dancers as forced arch - could be from an early work by modern dance pioneer Martha Graham, but Jackson imbues the move with a smooth sensuality that owes more to Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse” (NY Daily News, 29 June 2009). Anna Kisselgoff too compares MJ’s dancing to the abstractions of a mid-twentieth century modern dance master, Merce Cunningham. Unlike many pop stars, she points out, MJ does “not rely on prosaic body language.” Instead, he uses “nonspecific dances” showing movement as valuable in itself; what the audience “read[s] into it is provided by the theatrical context around it” (NYT, 6 March 1988).

The influence of earlier popular singer/dancers/actors is also clear. Although James Brown’s movement vocabulary is more limited than MJ’s, and  rather than choreography he seems to improvise using a set vocabulary during specific musical breaks, Brown’s intensity, complexity, and precision of movement are lessons MJ clearly learned. 

Ever since I was a small child, no more than like six years old, my mother would wake me no matter what time it was, if I was sleeping, no matter what I was doing, to watch the television to see the master at work. And when I saw him move, I was mesmerized. I had never seen a performer perform like James Brown, and right then and there I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life because of James Brown.[xxi]

A profound musicality is key to what makes MJ’s dancing so successful. His dancing evolves, always, directly from the music. “His ability to respond to the score faithfully and yet creatively, playing with the music, moving in before and after the beat…always comes off as spontaneity,” writes Acocella, “and he was loved, early on, for that quality” (New Yorker, 27 July 2009). In a 2003 ABC interview with British journalist Martin Bashir, MJ makes it literal:

Bashir: What’s going through your mind when you’re dancing?

Michael: Not thinking. Thinking is the biggest mistake a dancer can make. You have to feel…You become the bass…You become the fanfare, you become the clarinet and the flute the strings and the drums.

Bashir: So you’re almost the physical embodiment of the music?

Michael: Yeah, absolutely![xxii] 

MJ’s personal movement vocabulary, his musicality, the focus and intensity of his performance that allowed him to push his audience in any emotional direction he desired, are what make MJ’s dancing so engrossing. Ronni Favors told Olivia Smith: “Even if he wasn’t doing it for the first time, he made it look brand new” (NY Daily News, 29 June 2009). 

MTV and the Evolution of Music Videos

Music Television (MTV), a basic cable channel, debuted August 1, 1981. MTV’s incentive in developing the format was, of course, financial. From the beginning, MTV was imagined as new form of advertising aimed at a still to be “constructed” audience—the  lucrative 12-34-year old population (Goodwin, 38-39). But, to prove its value, to convince doubtful record executives of the form’s potential, MTV had to illustrate its potential as a potent sales tool. Its eventual 24-hour, seven-days-a-week rotation of songs proved the formats creators correct; music video became a dramatic new tool for music promotion.

MJ appears to have understood the power of the new media early on. Rather than a complement to his songs, he saw in music video an opportunity to create discrete works of art in which the components—music, dance, and visuals—were separately, but equally valued, and in which the whole expressed a single idea. In a 1999 interview he told TV Guide’s Lisa Bernhard:

…Jackie came to my house and said, ‘Are you watching this show that’s on TV?...It’s MTV.’ I put it on and thought the concept was very interesting. What I didn’t like was the videos that were a collage of images; I thought that if I were to do one, I would do something with a little more entertainment value. My dream was to make something with a beginning, a middle, and an ending, like a short film (4 December 1999).

MJ began to explore the ways in which musically rich and responsive sound and vocal passages, in conjunction with “physical embodiment(s) of the music”—i.e. dance—could move a storyline creating coherent presentations of his themes. The results were more elaborate, complex, and story-driven than a filmed stadium show, more cohesive than a video collage. They were in fact miniature music-theater-like, or movie-like, story-telling-in-music-and-movement constructions (Kooijman, 125-126).

MJ’s landmark Thriller videos, along with “Bad”, which followed five years later, and “Black or White,” “uniquely shaped early music video…introducing a new language for performative, popular dance that is both a contrast to, and an echo of film dancing in the age of the Hollywood movie musical.”[xxiii] (For full descriptions and analysis of these music videos, and a discussion of the MTV format, see the long version of this essay.) The narratives these videos presented also created a new image of the youthful urban experience directed at young people, moving away from easygoing, light stories, to a darker, if sometimes utopian view of the urban experience.

For the music industry Thriller was more than just entertainment. After Thriller,MTV’s unique contribution was fully realized;music videos would “no longer…[be seen simply as] promotional commercials for pop songs, in which the visuals are subordinated to the soundtrack,” they were now a unique art form (Kooijman, 126). Thriller’s most important innovation, however, was perhaps inadvertent. From the time Billie Jean hit the market it changed how young people learn to dance. As I write, in 2015, students from elementary school to college still report learning to dance by watching MJ’s music videos. The movements themselves continue to appear in school yards and in choreographies of many styles.

At the time Billie Jean wasreleased, Tina Turner, in light rotation, was the only African American artist on the MTV playlist.[xxiv] Billie Jean was released in medium rotation. The tremendous viewer response demonstrated definitively to “the pasty-faced number-crunchers who ran MTV…that white viewers would respond enthusiastically to videos featuring a black performer, something they had not previously believed,” Joe Queenan wrties (Guardian, 12 July 2007). Simply put, everyone wanted to see MJ dance perhaps even more than they wanted to hear him sing.[xxv] Billie Jean moved quickly into heavy rotation, helping “break the barriers between dance and rock, and black and white, that initially defined MTV as a white channel.”[xxvi]   It didn’t hurt that CBS, both Prince and MJ’s record label, threatened to pull their product from MTV and go public with MTV’s position on black musicians if they didn’t provide more exposure.

Other videos followed: the gangster-focused Smooth Criminal (1987), Scream (1995) with sister Janet and its killer dance jam, and Black or White (1991) with Macaulay Culkin, George Wendt of Cheers fame, and an international cast are only a few. The themes of Beat It, Thriller, Bad, and the controversial Black or White—tied by concepts of urbanity—offer a glimpse into MJ’s concern about youthful, black-on-black violence and his desire to see the violence peacefully resolved. Like nothing else in his career these videos address MJ’s relationship to, (and opinion about,) racial tensions in general, and obliquely his own experience. The Thriller videos attempt to explore these issues by embracing a narrative that moves from violence to peaceful resolution. With “Bad,” MJ begins to question that possibility. But “Black or White’s” multi-cultural morphing section, the so-called “Panther Dance,” reflects a different awareness, one that “reject[s] the demands of white audiences for ‘Black entertainment’ and instead offer[s] a statement about Black identity,” Elizabeth Chin writes in her fascinating article on this dance (Chin, 72). Jackson's panther dance, a “dream” that “Jackson presents is one of breaking free of boundaries that have limited his artistry...is a taking off of the [minstrel's] mask, a revelation of the abiding rage and anger that whites both fear and supress: a truth that cannot be morphed into something palatable either in dreams or in reality” (Chin, 70, 72). Eight years after Black or White’s release MJ told MTV News “I want[ed] to do a dance number where I can let out my frustration about injustice and prejudice and racism and bigotry, and within the dance I became upset and let go. I think at the time people were concerned with the violent content of the piece, but it’s, like, easy to look at. It’s simple.”[xxvii]

This Is It

Michael Jackson died June 25, 2009, at the age of 50, eighteen days before beginning his first concert series since 1997. Daniel Celebre, a principal dancer in This Is It, said the company finished a full show run-through at 1:30 am the night Jackson died. It was the first time “Thriller” had been performed in costume; the wardrobe crew cried because they thought it looked so amazing, Celebre told The Toronto Star. “Michael was smiling, he was laughing with us…He always danced full out. His energy was amazing…The feeling was unbelievable. Michael was at the top of his game. People who had known him for years said he'd never danced better…His form was so perfect…[he had told us] he was taking [us] on an awesome adventure,” Celebre said, “and he did.”[xxviii] This Is It, MJ said,was to be his last performance. Choreographed and directed by Kenny Ortega, it was bound for 50 sold-out shows in London's O2 Arena. Instead, video footage of rehearsals, which Ortega says had not been intended for public consumption but rather as a private rehearsal document, were edited into a movie of the same name after MJ’s death. 

Cardiac arrest brought on by “acute propofol intoxication” exacerbated by other anti-anxiety and related medications is said to have been the cause of death. MJ left two former wives, a few friends, and three children to whom, by many accounts, he seems to have been a loving father. He remained close to his mother and some of his siblings, and seems to have made a type of peace with his father.[xxix]

Following MJ’s death, the LA Times’ Lewis Segal wrote, “There is plenty of evidence that [MJ] was a seriously disturbed and lonely man, forever remaking not merely his public image but his physical being” (LA Times, 26 June 200). (MJ said the physical changes were caused by the skin condition vitiligo, a condition that causes pigmentation changes and can cause afflicted individuals to “feel bad about themselves.”)[xxx] Whatever the cause, it led to a face so changed it was unrecognizable as that of the little boy who left 2300 Jackson Street and set the world on fire.

Those who were closest to him said he was a boy-man who never quite grew up. At his funeral actress Brooke Shields, another child star, said MJ’s dearest desire was to go to the movies unrecognized, to “hang out with a friend” as others did.[xxxi] All stars, particularly those at MJ’s level of the stratosphere, face such issues. But MJ’s life experience—shaped by issues arising from abuse, a childhood of hard work in an adult industry, extreme fame at an age when being innocuousaids “becoming,” are only part of what we may imagine led to a life lived outside the norm. Jackson never said he wished he had not been successful, and always said he loved singing, dancing, and the stage, but his pining for a “normal” life is palpable even as his public behavior became increasingly bizarre.

MJ’s re-envisioning of the nature of the pop star performance, of what comprised a pop event, was only part of what formed his connection to his fans. His movements continue to appear on club floors making him as important to popular dance as he is to popular music. Generations of audiences responded passionately to his deeply rehearsed movements, to his magnetism, to the familiarity of his unmistakable profile, to his ever more elaborate costumes. “No other artist in recorded music had the clout and the cash—or the cojones, frankly—to deliver a smorgasbord of naked sentimentality, stripped-down soul, James Brown-influenced funk, Broadway musical theater, inspirational gospel, easy-listening schmaltz, B-movie horror…West Coasty pop-locking…and whatever else he deemed fit to throw in the pot, all…wrapped up…[as a] sic-fi techno-megaspectacle,” writes Jason King (192).

Six years after his death, in a sea of new artists, Michael Jackson is the single most referenced and researched performer by my New York City Public School and Community College students. Myriad online “how-to” videos of his dances, as well as the hundreds showing everyone from toddlers to seniors imitating his dances—particularly the moonwalk—are evidence of the lasting impression created by MJ’s dancing. Nigel Lythgoe, former executive producer and judge on “So You Think You Can Dance,” commented on the countless dance hopefuls who audition for the show saying Jackson influenced them to start dancing (Smith, NY Daily News, 29 June 2009). New York Times dance critic Brian Seibert writes “Jackson inspired a passion for dance in millions,” including a nine-year-old Seibert. After seeing MJ in Motown 25 and acquiring the proper wardrobe, Seibert, like many others, was “moved…to learn the choreography to all of his videos…I still remember those moves, and everyone in my generation recognizes them immediately.”[xxxii] He is the dancer they know. It is through his movement that they understand dancing; it is because of him that they can imagine themselves dancing. “It was his supreme achievement as a dancer to remain indomitably himself,” wrote Lewis Segal (LA Times, 26 June 2009). “Most of us never saw him in live performance…but we think we knew him…from the unforgettable soul-deep individuality of his dancing…And that's a legacy worth celebrating.”


[i] The dates in this essay are accurate to the best of my knowledge. Video citations in this article were available online at the time of writing.

[ii] Jackson attended Garnett Elementary School in Gary. See www.allmichaeljackson.com

[iii] The depth of James Brown’s influence on Michael in particular, both as a dancer and a singer, is clearly seen in this black-and-white, 1970 American Bandstand performance of James Brown’s “There Was a Time” (retrieved July 2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AlKWf48ITOo

[iv] These early videos were screened as part of Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, 1983, produced by Suzanne de Passe for Motown Records, commemorating Motown's twenty-fifth year of existence. (Motown was founded in January 1959, meaning that a twenty-fifth anniversary special should have aired in 1984 not 1983.) The Jackson 5 Motown audition is from 1968. “Motown 25: Jackson 5 Reunion (1983)” (retrieved July 2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx02Yw1eWds

[v] See, for instance, the Jackson 5’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show December 14, 1969. Sullivan perpetuates the myth that Ross, sitting in audience, “discovered” them in Gary, Indiana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aASwsMOy-pA 

[vi] There has been much interest in and speculation about Joe Jackson’s treatment of his children. That he physically “disciplined” them is clear. There have also been unproven accusations of sexual abuse. In a 1993 interview Michael Jackson told Oprah Winfrey that his father had beaten them. In October 2010, following Jackson’s death, Winfrey interviewed Katherine and Joe Jackson in their Encino, California home. During that conversation Winfrey asked Joe Jackson if he thought Michael was afraid of him. Jackson replies “I don't think he was afraid of me. What he was afraid of, he may do something wrong and I'd chastise him but not beat him. I never beat him like the media tried to say.” Winfrey challenges this statement. She and Jackson go back and forth about the meaning of the terms “beat” and “whip.” Eventually Winfrey points to the known fact that she was “beaten as a kid.” Katherine Jackson, who has been sitting silently, says: “You might as well admit it, that's the way black people raised their children…He used a strap. Yes, he did use a strap.” Winfrey: “Knowing what you know now, would you do it differently? Would you be a different kind-of father?” Joe Jackson: “I’m glad he was raised the way he was. He could have been like the other kids from Gary, dead or on drugs or something…I would have punished them by whipping them with a strap or something when they did something wrong. It would have kept them out of trouble, out of jail. My kids have never been in jail; nine kids and none of them ever been in jail…and that’s great.”

In 2009, following Jackson’s death, the Jewish Journal reprinted an essay written by Michael Jackson for OLAM Magazine with permission from the editor, David Suissa, who had arranged for Jackson’s original contribution. I have not been able to locate the original date. In the essay Jackson discusses both his strained relationship with his father, his father’s emotional remoteness, but also talks about the ways in which his father showed his sons that he cared for them. “My father was a managerial genius, and my brothers and I owe our professional success, in no small measure, to the forceful way he pushed us. He trained me as a showman, and under his guidance I couldn’t miss a step.” Michael Jackson, “Michael Jackson: Memories Of My Childhood,” Jewish Journal (reprinted from OLAM Magazine, a journal of Jewish spirituality with permission of the editor, David Suissa), 26 June 2009. http://www.jewishjournal.com/hollywood_jew/article/michael_jackson_memories_of_my_childhood_20090626 (retrieved 26 October 2015).

Chicago filmmaker Kenneth Joseph/Pretty Boy Filmshas produced a documentary attempting to throw light on the Jacksons’ time in Gary, including Joseph Jackson’s family abuse, through first person accounts by Katherine Jackson’s 3rd cousins and other (non-immediate) relatives. He also has a history of the Jacksons’ first record on Gordon Keith’s Steeltown label. The veracity of any of the information in the film is impossible to ascertain outside existing reports from other sources. I cannot tell if the film was ever released outside the web.  Steel Town Records-the Untold Story Of The Jackson 5. Found in 1:45 min version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0jojTH3Hi8 (retrieved October 2015).

[vii] Today, Evelyn Lahaie lives in a small city just east of Gary. Purportedly, according to several sources, Lahaie has remained in contact with Joe Jackson. Lahaie’s personal collection of memorabilia can be found at mjjarchives.weebly.com or on the Evelyn Lahaie Facebook page. Also see: Melissa Deavers, “Valpo resident who named Jackson 5 recalls time with Michael,” nwitimes.com, 28 June 2009 (retrieved 9 August 2015). Gabrielle Gonzalez, “Remembering the ‘magic’”, heraldarguss.com, 15 June 2012 (retrieved 9 August 2015).

[viii] Steeltown Records, Gary, Indiana,  was active from 1966-1972. The Jackson 5 recorded 2 singles for the label—“Big Boy/You Changed” and “We Don’t Have To Be 21 (to Fall In Love.)” Ben Brown, one of the original partners but not the one who signed the Jacksons (each co-owner discovered, signed, and monitored their own groups,) followed the Jackson’s to LA. Partnering with Joe Jackson he became president of Jackson Records. 

[ix] “Motown 25: Jackson 5 Reunion (1983)” (retrieved July 2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx02Yw1eWds

[x] These early covers included music by Sly and the Family Stone, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the doo-wop group The Teenagers, soul singers Wilson Pickett and Jackie Wilson, and fellow Motown performer Stevie Wonder.

[xi] One online clip which appears to be part of the footage from a 1970 ABC news crew who trailed and interviewed the Jackson 5 in Florida includes an unidentified woman giving them instructions on their performance during a rehearsal. This could be Suzanne de Passe. At 6:00 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8X0Ym9QwBI

[xii] Atkins, who also taught tap to children, remembers a young (7 he guesses) Michael Peters in his class. An adult Peters would choreograph Thriller and Beat It, as well as choreograph for Donna Summers, Pat Benatar and others. Cholly Atkins with Jacqui Malone, Class Act: The Jazz Life Choreographer Cholly Atkins. NY: Columbia University Press, 2001, p. 104.

[xiii] The Jacksons’ variety show was canceled in 1977.

[xiv]  The actual records-sold count and the way in which Top 100 are chosen is a matter of a bit of sleight of hand. For an explanation of the issues around both of these see The New Yorker writer Bill Wyman. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2013/01/did-michael-jacksons-thriller-really-sell-a-hundred-million-copies.html

[xv]  Shales, Tom. “Motown at 25: Yester-me, Yester-you” Washington Post, 16 May 1983, B1-B8.

[xvi] Anderson, Christopher. Michael Jackson: An Unauthorized Biography, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994. p. 119 (cited in Kooijman p. 122).

[xvii] Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness, Birch Lane Press, 1991, pp. 291-2; quoted in Kooijman “Motown 25,” in Inglish Performance and Popular Music, p. 119. J. Randy Taraborrelli, a former editor and publisher of Soul magazine is an unauthorized MJ biographer.

[xviii] Contrary to all evidence, MJ writes, “These three kids taught it to me. They gave me the basics—and I had been doing it a lot in private.” Jackson, Moonwalk, p. 210.

[xix] I draw this idea from Kooijman, p. 119.

[xx] Rubey, Dan. “Voguing at the Carnival: Desire and Pleasure on MTV”, South Atlantic Quarterly, 90:4 (1991), p. 638-9; reprinted in Present Tense: Rock and Roll Culture, ed. Anthony De Curtis, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992, pp. 235-70.

[xxi] WENN, “Jackson Attends Brown’s Public Funeral,” Contactmusic, 2 January 2007 (retrieved July 2015). http://www.contactmusic.com/news/jackson-attends-browns-public-funeral_1017673

[xxii] This transcript comes from the blog site mjadvocate. The blog owner has transcribed the complete 1:30 documentary, Living With Michael Jackson. (Retrieved July 2015). http://mjadvocate.blogspot.com/2010/11/living-with-michael-jackson-part-1-of-9.html

Portions of Bashir’s documentary were extremely controversial. Filmed over the course of 8 months from May 2002 to January of 2003, a segment aired in February first on British television (ITV Tonight) and then on ABC, introduced by Barbara Walters. Out-takes from Bashir’s final interview, focusing on both Jackson’s plastic surgery and his relationship with children, caused a stir. The backlash against Bashir, including accusations of exploiting his access and biased editing, was immediate both from Jackson and others who said it was “yellow journalism.” The New York Times called Bashir’s journalism style “callous self-interest masked as sympathy.” (Alessandra Stanley, “Television Review: A Neverland World of Michael Jackson,” New York Times, 6 February 2003. Retrieved July 2015.)Jackson and his personal cameraman released a second interview, Take Two: The Footage You Were Never Meant to See, aka “the rebuttal interview.” Presented by Maury Povich, it contains footage that Bashir omitted, as well as additional interviews with friends, family, and former wife Debbie Rowe. Following Jackson’s 2009 death Bashir apologized on Nightline saying that Jackson “was never convicted of any crime, and I never saw any wrongdoing myself.” (Martin Bashir, “Jacko was the greatest,”  The Sun London, 27 June 2009. Retrieved 2015 July.)

[xxiii]  MJ is said to have loved Gene Kelly’s dancing, all things Fred Astaire from the crispness of his movement to his use of props—brooms, hatracks, and drumsets—and to have had a special love for the movie West Side Story with Jerome Robbins’ choreography.

[xxiv]  Willman, Chris. “Cover Story: Traveling Along the MTV Time Line.” LA Times, 28 July 1991(retrieved 20 October 2015). http://articles.latimes.com/1991-07-28/entertainment/ca-435_1_MTV-videos. Despite an oft-cited claim, neither Billie Jean nor Beat It was the first music video by an African-American artist to be played on MTV. According to I Want My MTV, the British group Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie” “was the first black music video on MTV…Because they were little and spoke in funny British accents, Musical Youth were deemed nonthreatening and therefore non-black.”  Tannenbaum and Marks, p. 13. Also see: R. Serge  Denisoff,  Inside MTV. Transaction Publishers, 1988, p. 106.

[xxv] My thinking on this point comes from a personal conversation with author Natasha Ochshorn, 2013. Also see Andy Gill, “'Thriller' was the masterpiece that set tone for pop's next generation,” The Independent, 26 June 2009 (retrieved 1 April 2015). http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/thriller-was-the-masterpiece-that-set-tone-for-pops-next-generation-1721535.html, in particular his discussion of Jackson’s role in making dance and video as, if not more, important than music in the 1980s and his role in establishing MTV.

[xxvi] Goodwin, p. 133; Shuker, p. 119 cited in Koojaman, p. 126.

[xxvii] Vena, Jocelyn. “Michael Jackson’s Video Legacy, In His Own Words: We spoke to the King of Pop in 1999 about revolutionizing the world of music videos,” MTV News, 2 July 2009 (retrieved July 2014). http://www.MTV.com/news/1615239/michael-jacksons-video-legacy-in-his-own-words/

[xxviii]  Ouzounian, Richard. “Dancer recalls Michael Jackson’s last day of life,” The Toronto Star, 20 October 2009 (retrieved 15 August 2014).


[xxix] In a column originally written for OLAM Magazine, a journal of Jewish spirituality, MJ wrote, “My father was not openly affectionate with us, but he would show his love in different ways…gestures, however imperfect, that showed his love for us. When I was a kid…I loved eating glazed doughnuts, and my father knew that. So every few weeks I would come downstairs in the morning and there on the kitchen counter was a bag of glazed doughnuts - no note, no explanation, just the doughnuts. It was like a fairy godmother had visited our kitchen…I think now that my father had to leave the doughnuts secretly at night so that no one would catch him with his guard down. He was scared of human emotion, he didn’t understand it, or know how to deal with it. But, he did know doughnuts.” See foot note vi for full citation for this article.

[xxx]  Mayo Clinic/Diseases and Conditions. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vitiligo/basics/definition/con-20032007. Some question the veracity of the claim of vitiligo, but in the absence of other evidence, and based on MJ’s own claim, we accept it as fact for this article. Jackson told Oprah Winfrey in 1993 “It is something I cannot help. When people make up stories that I don't want to be who I am, it hurts me,” he said. “It's a problem for me. I can't control it. But what about all the millions of people who sit in the sun to become darker, to become other than what they are. Nobody says nothing about that.” In “Oprah Reflects: On Her Interview with Michael Jackson,” oprah.com, 19 September 2009 (retrieved August 2015), http://www.oprah.com/entertainment/Oprah-Reflects-on-Her-Interview-with-Michael-Jackson#ixzz3pgiAe2mM Jackson also addresses his plastic surgery with T.V. Guide’s Lisa Bernhard. He tells her he only had his nose done, that everyone in Hollywood has plastic surgery and that Lisa Marie Presley, one of his wives, told him Elvis had a nose job also. “The Once and Future King,” 4 December 1999. (Retrieved: 1 August, 2014) http://members.authorsguild.net/lbernhard/exclusive__michael_jackson_70905.htm

[xxxi]  See Shields speech at the Jackson memorial https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9KaKLD5MSc.

[xxxii] Scherr, Apollinaire. “Moon Walker (with added insight from Paul Parish and Brian Seibert, critic and tap historian.)” Foot In Mouth: Arts Journal, 27 June 2009. (Retrieved 6 January 2015.)


Carrie Stern is a dance writer, teacher and performer. From 2006-2012 she was the dance writer for the Brooklyn Eagle, a column she initiated. She has contributed to Dance TeacherDance MagazineDancer Magazine/Dance.com, the blog Classical TV, and other publications. Stern is an Adjunct Lecturer in dance at Queensborough Community College, and has taught dance and performance studies in the School for New Learning at DePaul University, technique at F.I.T. and writing at the New School. A Teaching Artist for 30 years, with musician Jessica Lurie she received a Brooklyn Arts Council/Arts In Education regrant in 2009, ’10, and ‘11 for “Yo, Poetry” an integrated arts composition program in poetry, dance and music. Stern received a 2004-2005 New York Foundation in the Arts School Arts Partnership award for “The Play’s the Thing.” She also teaches ballroom dance to children and adults. A choreographer and performer originally from Chicago, Stern was on staff and an artistic member of MoMing. Today Stern is primarily interested in facilitating improv groups in Brooklyn since 2006. Videos of her site-specific work are part of the collection of the Chicago Public Library. Stern has sat on arts panels for both the Westchester and the Brooklyn Arts Councils. She has a PhD in Performance Studies. 


Selected Resources for Further Research

Articles, Interviews, Podcasts

Acocella, Joan. “Walking on the Moon, Michael Jackson in motion.” The New Yorker, 27 July 2009.

Bergman, Elizabeth.“’Bad’ and ‘Cool’: Influence, Assimilation, and Appropriation in the Film West Side Story and Michael Jackson’s Music Video.” (unpublished paper presented at Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference, Washington, D.C., June 2013 

Bloom, Julie. “Supreme Commander.”  The New York Times, 26 November 2006. 

Bardley, Laura. “Watch One Brave MJ Impersonator in Baltimore Perform the Perfect Dance of Protest” Slate’s Culture Blog, 28 April 2015 (retrieved 20 October 2015) http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/04/28/baltimore_protester_dances_to_michael_jackson_s_beat_it_video.html 

Brown, August. “Michael Jackson’s dance-centric legacy in today’s pop music” in “Pop and Hiss, The L.A. Times Music Blog,” Los Angeles Times: 25 June 2009. 

Chin, Elizabeth. “Michael Jackson’s Panther Dance: Double Consciousness and the Uncany Business of Performing While Black.” Journal of Popular Music Studies, V. 23 #1 (2011). pp. 58-74. 

Couric, Katie. “Lil Buck: The ‘Ambassador’ of Jookin & Madonna’s Favorite Dancer.” Yahoo! News, 2014(retrieved 8 August 2014.)http://news.yahoo.com/katie-couric-interviews-lil-buck-214704149.html [has video] 

Gill, Andy. “‘Thriller’ was the masterpiece that set tone for pop’s next generation,” The Independent, 26 June 2009 (retrieved 1 April 2015). http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/thriller-was-the-masterpiece-that-set-tone-for-pops-next-generation-1721535.html

Griffin, Nancy. “The ‘Thriller’ Diaries,” Vanity Fair, 30 June 2010 (retrieved July 2014).


Hamera, Judith. “The Labors of Michael Jackson: Virtuosity, Deindustrialization, and Dancing Work.” Journal of Popular Music Studies, V. 23, no. 1 (2012). pp. 19-39. 

Ivory, Steve interviewed by Michel Martin. “Michael Jackson Leaves Behind Hits Both Large and Small.” National Public Radio, 1 July 2009 (retrieved August 2014)


Jackson, Michael. “Memories of My Childhood.” OLAM Magazine, reprinted 26 June 2009 in the Jewish Journal with editor, David Suissa (retrieved July 2015). http://www.jewishjournal.com/hollywood_jew/article/michael_jackson_memories_of_my_childhood_20090626 

Jackson, Michael with Pharrell Williams, “New Again: Pharrell Williams” Interview (originally printed August 2003, retrieved December 2015) http://www.interviewmagazine.com/music/new-again-pharrell-williams/print/

Kisselgoff, Anna. “Stage: The Dancing Feet of Michael Jackson.” New York Times, 6 March 1988 (retrieved 2014).


Lester, Paul.  “The Jacksons: ‘People have tried to tear down our family name.’” The Guardian, 21 February 2013 (retrieved 2014).


L.A. Times, Music Blog: “Michael Jackson’s dance-centric legacy in today’s pop music,” 25 June 2009. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2009/06/micheal-jacksons-dancecentric-legacy-in-todays-pop-music.html [Has video]

Macaulay, Alastair. “His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music.” New York Times, 26 June 2009 (retrieved 6 January 2015). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/arts/music/27assess.html?_r=0

Pointer, Kathleen. “Dancers remember Jackson’s influence.” Columbia Missourian, 27 June 2009 (retrieved 6 January 2015) http://www.columbiamissourian.com/news/dancers-remember-jackson-s-influence/article_175e4108

Quan, Denise. “Eddie Van Halen deconstructs his collaboration on ‘Beat It.’” CNN. 30 November 2012 (retrieved 20 October 2015). http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/30/showbiz/music/van-halen-jackson-thriller/

Queenan, Joe. “Vinyl Word: Joe Queenan on the surprising origins of classic hits: How Billie Jean changed the world,” The Guardian, 12 July 2007(retrieved December 2015). http://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/jul/12/popandrock

Ritchie, Kevin. “Q&A: Bob Giraldi on directing ‘Beat It,’” Boards Magazine, 7 July 2009 (retrieved 21 September 2010).


Roberts, Tamara. “Michael Jackson’s Kingdom: Music, Race, and the Sound of the Mainstream.” Journal of Popular Music Studies. V. 23 no. 1 (2011). pp. 19-39.

       “Fatima Robinson—director, choreographer.StyleLikeU.com. (retrieved 25 June 2012). http://stylelikeu.com/?s=Fatima+Robinson

Ryzik, Melena. “A man in constant motion: Lil Buck expands Jookin’s world.” New York Times, 26 June 2014 (retrieved August 5.)

Scherr, Apollinaire. “Moon Walker (with added insight from Paul Parish and Brian Seibert, critic and tap historian.)” Foot In Mouth: Arts Journal, 27 June 2009 (retrieved 6 January 2015).


Segal, Lewis. “Culture Monster: Why Michael Jackson danced like no one else.” Los Angeles Times, 26 June 2009 (retrieved 2014). http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/06/michael-jackson-a-dancer-like-no-other.html#sthash.TxWAd1I2.dpuf

Smith, Olivia. “Michael Jackson the dancer moved us beyond measure; among other gifts, Jackson was dance genius, too,” New York Daily News, 29 June 2009. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/michael-jackson-dancer-moved-measure-gifts-jackson-dance-genius-article-1.373191

White, Chelsea. “'King of popcorn!' Pharrell Williams reveals he hung up on Michael Jackson twice during bizarre phone call with the singer after he turned down his music,” The Daily Mail, 8 May 2014 (retrieved 30 December 2015).


Wyman, Bill. “Did ‘Thriller’ Really Sell A Hundred Million Copies?” The New Yorker,

4 January 2013.



Atkins, Cholly and Jacqui Malone. Class Act: The Jazz Life of Choreographer Cholly Atkins. NY: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Cadman, Chris and Craig Halstead. Michael Jackson: For the Record. Bedfordshire [UK]: Authors On Line, 2007.

Denisoff, R. Serge. Inside MTV, New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1988.

Dodds, Kevin.  Edward Van Halen: A Definitive Biography. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse, Inc, 2011.

Dome, Malcolm and Rod Fogg. Eddie Van Halen: Know the Man, Play the Music. SF: Backbeat Books, 2005.

Early, Gerald Lyn. One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004. (Originally published by Ecco Press, 1995. 

George, Nelson. Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise and Fall of the MoTown Sound (Music in American Life). Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986. 

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. NY: Penguin House, 1988.

Goodwin, Andrew. Dancing In the Distraction Factory: Music Television and Popular Culture. Minneapolis, Minn: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

Jackson, Jermaine. You Are Not Alone: Michael: Through a Brother's Eyes. New York: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), 2011.

Jackson, Michael. Moon Walk. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Kaplan, Ann E. Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and Consumer Culture. New York: Routledge, 1987.

King, Jason. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough: Presence, Spectacle, and Good Feeling in Michael Jackson’s This Is It.” Black Performance Theory. Eds. Thomas DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014. pp. 184-203.

Kooijman, Jaap. “Michael Jackson: Motown 25, Pasadena Civic Auditorium March 25, 1983.” Performance and Popular Music. Ed. Ian Inglis. Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2006. pp. 119-127. 

Matthews, Judith Tick and Paul Beaudoin Matthews, eds. “From Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk,” Music in the USA : A Documentary Companion: A Documentary Companion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. pp. 821-22.

Shuker, Roy. Understanding Popular Music Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Smith, Suzanne E. Dancing In The Streets: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Tannenbaum, Rob and Craig Marks. I Want My MTV. New York: Penguin Group, 2011.

Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Michael Jackson the Magic and the Madness. London: Pan Macmillan, 1991.

Moving Image


“Interview with Katherine and Joe Jackson,” Oprah Winfrey Show, aired November 2010 (retrieved July 2015). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-1327935/Michael-Jacksons-father-Joe-admits-beatings-abuse-Oprah.html

Michael Jackson Interview. 20/20, 1980. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2hMPdexJRg

Jackson Family Interviews. Phil Donahue Show, 1989.

Part 1 (retrieved 29 October 2015)


Part 2


Part 3


Michael Jackson when he was a kid

(This YouTube video, complied after his death by a fan, includes footage from an ABC news interview when MJ was 12, a clip from an interview with Suzanne dePasse commenting on MJ as a child and the toll of success, an interview with an unidentified interviewer, footage from MJ’s adult interview with Oprah Winfrey when he talks about his childhood, performance video and photos of the brothers as children. (Retrieved October 2014)


Michael Jackson early years: lost footage

(This footage appears to be of Michael in his early teens; with brother Randy interviewed, introducing others in Jackson clan.)(Retrieved October 2014) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lApglVnNHZ0

Dedication of the Michael Jackson Auditorium at the Gardener Street School,

(This YouTube video is accompanied by the following note: “In Oct. 1989, Michael Jackson came to Gardner St. Elementary School in Hollywood for a dedication of the school auditorium in his name. Michael attended the school in his youth. This is the uncut version of the tape that went home afterwards with the students. It includes Michael's comments to the gathered crowd and his interaction with the kids in the classroom. The tape was given to me by a friend who was a student at the time. Larry Nimmer.”)


Kenneth Joseph/Pretty Boy Films. Steel Town Records--The Untold Story Of The Jackson 5. Found in 1:45 min version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0jojTH3Hi8 (Retrieved October 2015)

Jackson Five

Rare Footage of the Jackson 5

(This undated footage of Michael and brothers includes studio and rehearsal footage, interspersed with travel footage). (Retrieved November 2014) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oH4SXWKBSNE

“I Want You Back.” Dick Clark Show. 1969 (retrieved 1 July 2015).” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hkaghHu6ec 

“I Want You Back.” Diana Ross Show. 1969 (retrieved 1 July 2015). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT586E9OUfg

“I’ll be there” and “Feelin’ Alright.” Diana Ross Special. 1971. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chJt4XDaZOc

“I Want You Back.” Ed Sullivan.” 14 December 1969 (retrieved 1 July 2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aASwsMOy-pA

“Who’s Loving You.” Ed Sullivan. 14 December 1969 (retrieved 1 July  2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pcC6krtMkw

Hollywood Palace. 1969. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BugwOpOcJM

“ABC.” Ed Sullivan. 10 May 1970 (retreived 1 July 2015). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-aSjHnbw18

“The Love You Save.” Ed Sullivan. 10 May 1970 (retreived 1 July 2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QR-X4pCwL_o

Andy Williams Show. 1970. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sj4gTCVx3l8

“I Want You Back.” The Jackson 5 Goin’ Back To Indiana TV special. 1971. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3Q80mk7bxE

2300 Jackson Street (official video). 1989.


Influences on Michael Jackson

Cab Calloway


First Moonwalk (Tap dance “backslide”—Bill Bailey at Apollo Theater) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y71njpDH3co

Compilation of Moonwalks including: Fred Astaire, Bill Bailey, Buck and Bubbles, Cab Calloway, Clark Brothers, Sammy Davis Jr., Daniel L. Haynes, Rubberneck Holmes, Patterson and Jackson, Eleanor Powell, Bill Robinson, Three Chefs (only the feet), Tip Tap and Toe (featuring Ray Winfield), Earl Snakehips Tucker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH7VymwHLmo

Jeffery Daniels, 1982, “A Night to Remember,” Top of the Pop https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=END_WYdf8pw

“Q&A: Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers–A Dancing Machine.” 22 October 2013. Interview with Soul Train.com http://soultrain.com/2013/10/22/qa-michael-boogaloo-shrimp-chambers-a-dancing-machine/

MTV Videos 

Billie Jean

Motown 25: Jackson 5 Reunion,1983 (retrieved July 2015). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vx02Yw1eWds

Video (retrieved December 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi_XLOBDo_Y

“Billie Jean” Epic Records http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bU45ASLIGw

MICHAEL JACKSON BILLIE JEAN 30TH ANNIV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OU5pKS-roVk

Beat It (Retrieved December 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ym0hZG-zNOk

Thriller (Retrieved December 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOnqjkJTMaA

Bad.1987. (Retrieved December 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsUXAEzaC3Q

Bad (full version) Part 1 (Retrieved January 2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHdDtuzreVQ

Bad (full version Part 2 (Retrieved January 2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdGvGZQqGw4

Videos of others performing with, recreating, or influenced by Jackson


Justin Timberlake performing with Jackson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_twTnmd9vZs

Similarities to Jackson can be seen in Timberlake’s 2006 VMA version of “Sexy Back.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySoKH4LItrw

Jackson and Usher at Madison Square Garden http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sq0H5jcHOvE

Chris Brown performing “Thriller” at the WMA 2006 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPkN7TdIBrg

Ne-Yo in DancingMoves Episode 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j4lSmLDAsU

Pink, Maya, Janet, and Usher: MTV Jackson memorial show http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYmc3FM4Woc

Beyonce: “Love On Top” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ob7vObnFUJc 

Janet Jackson: “Rhythm Nation” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAwaNWGLM0c

Michael and Janet Jackson: Scream https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P4A1K4lXDo 

Ciara: Like a Boy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HKH7Emy1SY

Janelle Monae: “Tightrope” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwnefUaKCbc

Michael Jackson and Britney Spears. “The Way You Make Me Feel,” 30th Anniversary at Madison Square Garden. 2001. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYnLl8IQ34A

Hip Hop

Les Twins: Urban Dance Showcase. 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_470257&feature=iv&src_vid=Y4K-6x07nyw&v=ETNHkKVUzlY

Les Twins: Dancing to a remix of Michael Jackson’s “Whatever Happens” at World of Dance San Diego. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XLGYxeL1iQ

Les Twins 2011 at Planet Funk Academy--different version of dance to a remix of Michael Jackson’s “Whatever Happens” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTyIcqyYvKg

Lil Buck. 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiWZWRDIUD0

Lil Buck Michael Jackson Tribute. 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4HBKBvWLyY

Marquese Scott’s dubstep tribute to Michael Jackson. 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4UKENAyhD0

Marquese Scott with Dragon house: Illusion of Choice 2012 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzArlTkwCN8


German figure skater Katarina Witt’s recreation of Jackson’s “Bad.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPgSKkePy8E

Russian synchronized swimmers Natalia Ishchenko’s and Svetlana Romashina’s Olympic routine to “They Don’t Care About Us.” http://www.metatube.com/en/videos/148682/Amazing-Routine-to-Michael-Jackson-in-the-synchronized-swimming-Olympic-London2012/


Cebu prisoners dancing “Thriller” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZC6JuTlOVM

“Michael Jackson Imitator at the Jackson’s old High School, Roosevelt High School Gary 2010”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJOBze_cPJU