It’s difficult to imagine another clan ever being as recognizable or as widely loved as the Jacksons. Fronted by a preternaturally gifted, grammar school-aged Michael Jackson and managed by famously domineering father Joe Jackson, the group established their bonafides on the Midwestern “chitlin circuit,” eventually gaining the attention of Sam & Dave, who helped arrange for them to perform at the Apollo Theater’s famed amateur night.
Handily winning the competition, the group drew the attention of Gladys Knight, who recommended them to Motown head Berry Gordy. He initially blanched because the label already had a then-teenage Stevie Wonder on its roster.
Eventually relenting when he saw them perform in person, Gordy signed the group to Motown and tabbed them as his imprint’s next big act. Wisely assuming that it would be easier for the group to gain attention if they were under the imprimatur of an already established act, Motown paired them with Diana Ross, even going as far to title their first album “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.”
Shattering records, the group’s first four “bubblegum soul” singles (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There”) rocketed to No. 1 on the charts, allowing the entire family to move to California. “Jacksonmania” consumed the country, with the group’s image adorning lunch boxes, posters and even a Saturday morning cartoon. Two national television specials further endeared the group to the American public.
As the group matured, they began writing their own songs. This eventually caused tensions with Motown brass, which insisted that the songs be composed by a team of songwriters known as “The Corporation,” and later by Hal Davis. When their commercial fortunes began to slightly falter, the Jacksons left Motown for CBS, which offered them significantly higher royalty rates and the ability to write their own songs and play their instruments on records.
Replacing Jermaine Jackson (who opted to stay at Motown) with 14-year old Randy, the group received its own CBS variety show, which earned the distinction of being the first variety show hosted by an African American family. Known as The Jacksons (Motown owned the trademark for “The Jackson 5”), the group released five more albums to varying degrees of success, scoring a handful of singles that cracked the Top 10.
However, the group’s enduring success was overshadowed by Michael’s burgeoning solo career. After their 1984 “Victory” tour, he left the group, ending an incredibly successful 15-year run. In the wake of his death in 2009, the brothers made plans to reunite for a tour and studio album.
As of 2010, the Jackson 5 has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.