Coming in at the tail end of the 1960’s, The Jackson 5 ushered Motown into its second decade with a fresh sound and a unique look. The group of five brothers became a pop-music phenomenon, but it was their youngest member, Michael, who would go on to become The King of Pop. Their funky, youthful sound and tight choreography made their two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show a moment in music history.
The five boys (Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael) were raised in Gary Indiana, and at a young age were guided into music by their father, Joe. The boys’ harmonies and sound were influenced by top performing stars of the 1960s including Ed Sullivan show guestsJackie Wilson, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Sam and Dave and The Supremes. By 1966, the brothers were performing in local talent shows and competitions with Michael singing lead. On August 13, 1967 they won the famous Amateur Night competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem and the group caught the attention of Motown.
Gladys Knight had seen the show at the Apollo that evening and told Motown founder and owner Berry Gordy that he had to check the group out. However, Gordy would not meet The Jackson 5 until July 1968 when Bobby Taylor (a member of the group The Vancouvers), brought the boys to Hitsville in Detroit for an audition. After seeing the group perform, Gordy knew he had seen something very special and immediately signed the group to Motown.
For their introduction into the pop music industry, Berry Gordy decided to attach The Jackson 5 to Motown star and Ed Sullivan Show guest Diana Ross and The Supremes, and publicists spread the story that she had discovered the group. Their first album Diana Presents The Jackson 5 was released in December 1969.
Ed Sullivan had taken notice of The Jackson 5 when their debut single started climbing the charts and they appeared on the ABC variety show, Hollywood Palace. Always a supporter of Motown, Ed wanted to book the boys on his show. He and Gordy came to an agreement and The Jackson 5 was booked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show December 14, 1969.
That evening, Ed Sullivan introduced The Jackson 5 as “a sensational group” and the brothers took the stage to sing Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand.” The song, which included a charming dance number, was packed with feeling. Following that, an adorable Michael Jackson, donning a striking bright purple hat and vest, told a story about a girl he met in the sandbox at school, leading into Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You.” Michael really showed off his vocal range in that number. The third song of the set was The Jackson 5’s first hit single“I Want You Back.” The song dazzled and amazed the audience. Ten-year-old Michael had a confident smile and attitude paired with an incredibly soulful voice and impressive dance moves. He had a special sparkle in his eye and looked incredibly at home performing on stage.
At the end of their set, Ed Sullivan shook the boys’ hands and called out to Diana Ross in the audience. He introduced her as “the person who discovered The Jackson 5.” Diana stood up and took a bow. At that point it really didn’t matter who discovered the five young boys as they had won over the studio audience and everyone watching across the nation. That evening, Ed was awed by Michael’s enormous talent and clearly took a liking to him stating, “The little fella in front is incredible.”
On May 10, 1970 The Jackson 5 returned to New York to appear for a second time on The Ed Sullivan Show. Motown executive Suzanne DePasse styled them in colorful outfits: bell bottoms, fringed suede vests and platform shoes. They came on stage and sang two of their hits “I Want You Back” and “ABC.” The group’s performance was well coordinated, polished and packed with energy. Before closing that evening’s appearance with “The Love You Save,” a song they performed beautifully, Ed Sullivan took a moment to promote their summer tour and congratulate the five of them.
The Ed Sullivan Show was a major career-booster and elevated the group’s national profile to another level. This was accompanied by a bustle of media coverage that celebrated the discovery of the music industry’s new darlings. The charming performers had mesmerized and captivated fans and the media. The remarkable coverage surprised even the hard-to-please Gordy.
“Jacksonmania” swept across the nation and Motown took advantage of the young group’s newfound fame by promoting an abundance of Jackson 5 related products as well as a Saturday morning TV cartoon about the band called “The Jackson 5ive.” The band would continue to record through the 1970’s, but they would never match their incredibly successful run from 1969-1971. They would be the last “big stars to come rolling off the Motown assembly line” during Berry Gordy’s ownership of the record label.
In the mid 1970’s, Michael Jackson began to build a solo career while still remaining part of the group. Slowly he built a budding career in his own right and by 1982, when the LP, Thriller, was released it became the world’s best-selling album of all-time. Michael Jackson had become an international superstar and icon. Known as “The King of Pop,” he became renowned for his music, dance, fashion and humanitarian work.
The Jackson 5 was the biggest African-American pop group to break through all levels and capture the hearts of fans of all ages around the world. Their sound and magnetic energy crossed all racial barriers. At Michael Jackson’s funeral on July 7, 2009, video of The Jackson 5 performing “Who’s Loving You” on The Ed Sullivan Show was shown to the live audience and viewers all around the globe. In his eulogy, Motown founder, Berry Gordy, called Michael “the greatest artist who ever lived.”