(June 27, 2018). We knew of him as the tough, iron-fisted patriarch of the most famous family in all of music history.
That family knew him as “Joseph.”
Today, Joseph Walter Jackson passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 89, exactly one month shy of his 90th birthday.
What many of us believed to be true about Joe Jackson, we disliked about him. There were the accounts from his world-famous children, particularly Michael and Janet, who spoke repeatedly of the childhood abuse they suffered at the hands of their father.
There were the stories of his estranged marriage to Kathryn – the mother of his nine famous surviving children – and the emotional abuse she endured.
There were the stories of tireless practice sessions by the five young sons who would later make up the Jackson 5, Motown’s first great “boy band” and the group who would ultimately carry the still-relevant-but-in-need-of-a-spark record label into the 1970s.
Those boys – Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon and Michael – had raw talent, but it was surely the tough, guiding hand of Father Joe, himself once a musician, which honed that talent and made Motown take notice. He knew how tough this world was – especially for poor black boys growing up in the blue-collar steel town of Gary, IN, in the 1960s. He wanted something better for his sons and his family, and he saw music as the way to get it.
Few can argue that he didn’t succeed in reaching that goal, if the measure of success is worldwide fame, riches beyond any poor black ghetto kids’ imaginations, and accomplishments and recognition in music that no other singular family can collectively claim.
But if the barometer of success is one’s ability to lead a normal life without much emotional scarring, then the argument against Joe grows louder. Many have pointed to Joe’s parenting of his most famous son as the reason for Michael’s inability to “grow up” and cope in a world that was thrust upon him at age 11, one he ultimately exited at age 50 because of his inability to say no to his own excesses.
Through our modified millennial parenting lenses, we didn’t like Joe’s methods, at least as accounted to us by those very famous offspring. We heard of the beatings, the philandering, the years of irrationally domineering business management. But what we seldom heard was the recognition he was due for having introduced those children to a way of life that they otherwise would not have known. We seldom heard him being thanked for having introduced billions of us to those children whose music we’ve enjoyed for nearly half a century – ever since “I Want You Back” debuted on American radio in November 1969 and became the Jackson 5’s first No. 1 hit the next January.
Those of us lucky enough to have grown up in black families with a father whose disciplinary hands were at times as strong as Joseph’s failed to come to his defense, even as we thanked our own fathers whose broader vision forced us to straighten up and act right, lest we end up where so many of our less fortunate brethren too often do.
Predictably, the praise will come now – in Jackson’s death – because that’s how we often roll. People are very good at giving a man his flowers after he’s gone. Sadly, even this article will not be an exception.
In a twisted way, Joe Jackson’s domineering parenting and management style – more specifically, the need to escape from it – is what catapulted the two most famous Jacksons to levels of success even they could not have fathomed while still under their dad’s control. Michael in 1979 and Janet in 1985 both fired their father as manager and both careers soon skyrocketed. Jackson’s 1979 Off The Wall album was his musical breakthrough. Janet’s career-defining 1986 album Control – particularly the title track – was aimed directly at Joseph, who just months earlier had orchestrated the annulment of his daughter’s teenage marriage to James DeBarge.
Off The Wall led to Thriller, Control led to Rhythm Nation 1814, and the rest was, as they say, history. Perhaps Joseph lacked the creative talents possessed by his offspring and those they later surrounded themselves with in their freedom from dad – Quincy Jones in Michael’s case, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis in Janet’s – but none of their success would have been possible without the work ethic no doubt instilled in them by the firm parenting hand of their father. None of it would have happened without “Joseph.”
Now the music world gets to mourn the passing of the Jackson patriarch who started it all. In his memory, it’s worth noting just how much the Jacksons have collectively achieved since they were introduced to the world in 1969.
What follows is just part of the Joe Jackson legacy, brought to us by his internationally famous children through their music, their art, and more importantly, a vision that they – at least in part – owe to their much maligned and now late father… Joseph.
- 13 Number One albums on the Billboard 200 (Janet 7, Michael 6)
- 27 Number One singles on the Billboard Hot 100 (Michael 13, Janet 10, J5 4)
- 37 Number One singles on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart (Janet 16, Michael 13, J5 6, Jermaine 2)
- The biggest-selling album of all time (Thriller)
- The first group to have its first four Hot 100 singles reach No. 1 on the pop and soul charts (J5: “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “Ill Be There”)
- Between 1970-80, 24 of the J5’s first 26 singles reached the top ten on the Billboard R&B charts.
- The first album to generate five No. 1 singles (Bad, Michael)
- The only album to generate seven top-five Hot 100 singles (Rhythm Nation 1814, Janet)
- The only album to have No. 1 songs in three different calendar years (RN1814, Janet, 1989-‘91)
- The only family to have seven siblings with solo chart hits (chronologically: Michael, Jermaine, Latoya, Janet, Rebbie, Marlon and Jackie). All seven reached the top 40 of the R&B chart with solo hits, with all except Latoya and Jackie reaching the top ten. Tito and Randy are the only two without solo hits.
- The various Jackson combinations have reached the R&B chart 182 times: Michael 54, Janet 45, J5/Jacksons 36, Jermaine 27, LaToya 9, Rebbie 7, Marlon 2, Jackie 2
- 48 Guinness Book of World Records entries (Michael 39, Janet 9)
- 18 Grammy awards (Michael 13, Janet 5)
- Grammy Legend and Lifetime Achievement Awards (both Michael)
- Numerous BET and NAACP Image Awards (including BET’s inaugural Icon Award (Janet),
- 27 MTV Video Awards (Michael 18, Janet 9)
- 25 Soul Train Awards (Janet 13, Michael 12)
- Some of the most iconic music videos in history (“Beat It,” “Thriller,” “Rhythm Nation,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Black or White”)
- Two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions (J5 in 1997, Michael in 2001); plus nominee (Janet in 2016)
- Three Icon Awards (Janet: MTV, BET and Billboard)
- Two Super Bowl Halftime Shows (Michael and Janet)
- Numerous Humanitarian Awards, including Civil Rights Efforts Image Award (Janet), Human Rights Campaign Humanitarian Award (Janet), GLAAD’s Vanguard Award (Janet), Celebrate the Magic Foundation’s Magic Life Award (Michael), Harry Chapin Memorial Award (Michael), National Urban Coalition Humanitarian Award (Michael)
- Michael has been recognized as the most awarded artist in music history
- Michael is recognized as “the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time” by the Guinness Book (1 billion units sold worldwide)
R.I.P. Joseph Walter Jackson, and thanks for what you gave to the world as the patriarch of the most famous family in music history.