December 14, 2011 will mark the 42nd anniversary of the debut of the Jackson 5 on The Ed Sullivan Show. On December 14, 1969, decked in snazzy outfits, the quintet hit the Sullivan stage to perform “Who’s Loving You” and “I Want You Back,” along with a cover version of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand!” The group, led by Michael Jackson’s one-of-a-kind vocals and charismatic presence, delivered a captivating performance that evening which helped them gain national exposure. It was truly an unforgettable night in music history.
Kicking off their set with the title song from Sly and the Family Stone’s hit record Stand!, the five brothers nailed their routine with exceptional harmonization and synchronized dance steps. Michael Jackson, wearing a now famous purple hat and vest, then shared a cute little story about meeting a girl on the playground at school before launching into “Who’s Loving You.” Michael wowed the audience with his impressive vocal control and raw emotion throughout the soulful ballad. It was hard to imagine that a 10-year-old kid could sing with so much feeling. As Smokey Robinson later put it, Michael at a very young age “had a lot of ‘know’ to be able to sing a song like that.” The group then closed out their set with their first hit single, “I Want You Back.” Following the performance, Ed joined the Jackson 5 on stage and pointed out Diana Ross in the audience, noting her as the one who discovered the young and talented crew (However, it was actually Gladys Knight who initially brought the Jackson 5 to Berry Gordy’s attention). As the Jackson 5 walked off-stage, Ed Sullivan looked to the audience and said, “The little fella in front is incredible.”
That was a special evening on The Ed Sullivan Show. For many people, it is the first time they remember seeing Michael Jackson perform. The Jackson 5 went on to become one of the premiere acts of Motown, with all of their studio releases achieving platinum sales and spawning 22 Billboard Top 40 singles. Below is a trailer for Motown Gold from The Ed Sullivan Show which includes a short clip of that unforgettable December 14, 1969 performance by The Jackson 5.