Love him or hate him in his later years, I don't know anyone who could deny the sheer musical brilliance of the early Jackson 5 music. And considering how often I hear Jackson 5 songs on a variety of friends' iPods, clearly the music has stood the test of time.
Today I went to a terrific musicology lecture to close out the "Life and Career of Michael Jackson" exhibit at the Black History Museum, located in beautiful downtown Jackson Ward, not that you shouldn't have already known that. The speaker was Roi Boyd, who teaches at Virginia Union and whose personal collection of artifacts, album covers, posters, magazines and newspapers was on display. Today's lecture was about the Jackson 5's early years and included a whole lot of video clips, music clips and pictures; I found the whole thing fascinating and only vaguely unsettling.
I didn't remember just how powerful a singer and amazing a dancer Jackson was at age 9. Or how disturbing it was to watch a ten year old sing songs of passion and love. And I don't think I ever knew that almost all of their first album, the one with the mega-hit "I Want You Back" on it was cover songs (Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Four Tops, Delphonics, Temptations).
We got to see the Jackson 5's audition tape for Berry Gordy from back in 1968 and I marveled at how his dance moves were already so well developed at that early stage. Before the group signed to Motown, they were on Steeltown records and we heard an early recording of a song called "Big Boy" from that label. Amazing stuff.
The exhibit included some concert posters, including a specific hand-made one for the Washington, D.C. Victory Tour, a show for which I had tickets and didn't go; undoubtedly I was the only person in the world who made that choice, at least in D.C.
It was a shame that the lecture didn't attract a bigger crowd given how un-lecture like the experience was. It was more of an audio/visual immersion experience in the Jackson 5 and I'm willing to bet that even non-music geeks would have been into it. For a music and lecture lover like me, it was an hour and a half of pure pleasure.