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The Life and Career of Michael Jackson: The Early Years

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana, Michael Jackson got his start in music with his brothers in The Jackson 5. His natural vocal talent and dancing abilities quickly led to a solo career that would turn him into the biggest star of the 1980's. His records were critical and commercial smashes, with 1984's "Thriller" becoming the best-selling album of all time. The success and fame would soon begin to affect him on a personal level as well. In this video, takes a look at Michael Jackson's life and career from 1958 to 1990.

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The Jacksons

Michael Joseph Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana. He first got into music in 1964 when he joined his older siblings in the band, The Jackson Brothers, as a backup musician and vocalist. The group changed its name to The Jackson 5 shortly after Michael started sharing lead vocal duties with Jermaine.

Motown Records

Though Jackson’s father was a very strict disciplinarian, Michael was a natural talent whose vocals and dance moves quickly turned him into The Jackson 5’s main draw. The group signed with Motown Records in 1968 and released four number 1 singles on the label, including “I Want You Back” and “I’ll Be There.”

Solo Records

Jackson released four solo albums on Motown, including his solo debut: the January 1972 album, Got to Be There, and August 1972’s, Ben. The title track of this sophomore effort gave Jackson his first number one solo single. Meanwhile, in June 1975, The Jackson 5 signed with Epic Records and became The Jacksons.

"Off the Wall" with Quincy Jones

Between 1976 and 1984, The Jacksons released six albums. It was during this period that Michael met Quincy Jones while he starred in the 1978 film, “The Wiz,” an African-American remake of the Wizard of Oz. Jones then went on to produce Jackson’s 1979 record, Off the Wall, which produced four Top Ten singles, such as “Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You.”


Though Michael had not yet officially left The Jacksons, his solo career was taking off. Next up was 1982’s Thriller, which became the best-selling album of all-time and won Jackson seven Grammys and eight American Music Awards. Seven of Thriller’s nine tracks became Top 10 singles, including “Billie Jean,” “Beat It” and “The Girl is Mine,” a duet with Paul McCartney. The Jones-produced record not only solidified Jackson’s staying power, but also helped bring the music video to the next level. Elaborate efforts such as the video for “Thriller” helped revolutionize the medium with their narratives, dance sequences and special effects.

The Moonwalk and Pepsi

1983 saw Jackson reunite with his brothers during a live television performance on the show “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” On that same special, he debuted his now-trademark dance move, the moonwalk, during a solo performance. The next year, Jackson and his brothers were filming a commercial for Pepsi Cola when Michael’s hair was accidentally set on fire. This injury is credited by many as having prompted Jackson’s obsession with plastic surgery, though his look had begun to change prior to the Pepsi fiasco.

The Victory Tour

A few months later, he went on tour with his brothers to promote his last album with The Jacksons, Victory. Jackson donated all funds from the Victory Tour to charity.

The Beatles

While Jackson had collaborated a second time with Paul McCartney on the 1983 single, “Say Say Say,” their friendship ended when Michael acquired the publishing rights to most of The Beatles’ songs by purchasing ATV Music’s catalogue in 1984. The next year, Jackson showed his philanthropic streak when he co-wrote the charity song, “We Are the World” with Lionel Richie. The single was recorded with a super-group of musicians and millions of dollars from its sales were donated to famine relief.

Personal Life

By the mid-1980’s, Jackson’s physical appearance began to change more obviously. He underwent a few cosmetic surgeries as well as treatments for vitiligo, a disorder that lightened the colour of his skin. Tabloids were also spreading outrageous rumours about his personal life during this time.


1986 saw Jackson collaborate with directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola on a short and innovative 3D film called “Captain EO,” that was shown at Disney theme parks. By 1987, Jackson’s next album, Bad, was finally released. Though it was not as successful as Thriller, it did spawn several number one singles, such the title track, “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Man in the Mirror.” The Bad World Tour that followed ultimately became the highest-grossing tour of all-time.

Neverland Ranch

1988 saw Jackson’s first autobiography, “Moonwalk” hit number 1 on The New York Times best sellers’ list. That same year, he also converted some property into a home and amusement park in California and renamed it Neverland Ranch.

From Child Star to Superstar

During the first part of his career, Michael Jackson went from being a child star to being one of the world’s biggest entertainers. Of course, there would be much more to come.

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