A memorial sits in front of the childhood home of the late Michael Jackson in Gary, Indiana. 2009 Photograph by Brown Images

2300 Jackson Street

Quickly I ran out to play, under the puffy white clouds that hung neatly in the clear sky—a few miles from Lake Michigan waves.

Keeping watch was Mama, hawking me as I anxiously waited to get dirty with Joe and Katie Jackson’s kids.

My squeals of delight punctuated the summer air as I played for hours with the large family that lived across the street. Their petite home rested on the street named in honor of U.S. President Andrew Jackson in Gary, Indiana. It was only a short rock glide from my great-Aunt Esther’s house.

Tall and shapely, she was my favorite. She had cocoa skin and an empowering voice that vacillated between the conversation of royalty and the ferociousness of a bobcat during heated debates.

If there were even a hint that she was losing an argument, she would simply end it with “it’s a long story.” Her rich oral fables brought comfort to neighbors and guests, who were welcome to sigh, laugh and lie about the activities of the day.

Indelibly etched in my heart are Esther’s narratives with feelings that reflect the aspirations and hopes shared by my working-class family, the Jacksons, and thousands of others in Gary.

The house she shared with her husband, Turner, was where I grew, learned about life and witnessed the tumultuous rise of the world’s most famous musical family, the Jackson Five-my childhood playmates.

I was very young when I played with Michael—so all that remains are flashes of memory, largely obscured by the mist of time. We were only old as recharged car batteries-about 2 or 3 years old.

Years before Michael, the boy who would be King, whose talent engulfed the world and forever altering the course of musical history----his grandfather, Samuel Jackson was a morning fixture sipping black coffee in Aunt Esther’s kitchen.

When the Jackson brothers were still performing on the “chitlin’ circuit,” they often played at Sonny’s Den, a neighborhood juke joint on 12th and Grant Street. I lived about a block away, but I was still too young to even walk pass the spot.

The emotions from those long-ago days at 2300 Jackson Street have unearthed stories of my family’s relationship with the Jackson family.

The eldest Jackson, Rebbie, and my older cousin, Faye often practiced jump-rope routines on the warm neighborhood sidewalk.

One evening, Jackie Jackson or “Jackie Boy” as he was called back then, was caught drinking gin by his Mama, Katie. Jeffery, Esther’s son was usually with Jackie Boy during his episodes of backyard mischief.

My Uncle Ike’s love interest was Michael’s aunt, Lula Jackson. Their relationship produced a baby boy, Wendell, who is my cousin—and “The King of Pop’s first cousin.

Many years have gone by since those times at Aunt Esther’s. But, I will always treasure the moments on Jackson Street and our family’s enduring love. Most of all, I hold close the memories of wrestling in the grass with the Jackson kids.

Milbert O. Brown, Jr., a Gary, Indiana native, is the online editor of “The Brown Report” and a freelance writer-photographer based in the Baltimore-Washington, DC corridor. 2009 Copyright by Milbert O. Brown, Jr.

The Jackson Kids

The Jackson Kids
Photograph by Bob Black

Movie Review-"This is It" ****four-star rating

‘This Is It’ shows King of Pop was thrilling to the end

Watching him on film, it’s clear time that had slowed him a bit. His usually slight frame seemed thinner than ever. But when the mesmerizing staccato beat of ‘’Wanna Be Startin’ Something’’ begins, he snaps to attention like Pinocchio springing to life for the first time. Though there were fewer dazzling spins and turns, Jackson’s tremulous tenor still delivered the sizzling showmanship that propelled the Jackson 5 from obscurity in Gary, Indiana to international stardom in the late 1960s.

Deep in my heart, I knew it wasn’t true.

When the news broke about Michael Jackson’s untimely death last June, I was moved to tears. But what hurt even more were media reports saying that in rehearsals for his ‘’This is It’’ concert tour, Jackson was a mere shadow of his former genius, displaying little of the magic that had thrilled millions around the globe for more than four decades.

After seeing ‘’This Is It’’ last weekend, I can happily say those reports of his musical demise were premature, indeed. The documentary, filmed over the last few months of his life during rehearsals for the 50-date tour, is proof positive that at age 50, the King of Pop was still at the top of his game. Had his adHadlife not ended so tragically weeks before the tour, he undoubtedly would have given a final curtain call befitting entertainment royalty.

The film reveals a rarely seen side of Jackson, as well as spectacular new productions of his well-worn blockbuster hits like ‘’Thriller,’’ ‘’Beat It ’’ and ‘’Smooth Criminal.’’ More than that, the documentary shows Jackson was not content to fade gently into that musical good night. Instead, he planned to go out like a star going nova, and was working day and night to ensure the performances would be the crown jewel of his musical legacy.

As he went through his paces, Jackson’s seemed humble and polite, gently offering suggestions to director Michael Ortega, the crew, band and dancers. Flashing his smile, Jackson dishes out hugs freely, repeating, ‘’I love you.’’

While rehearsing ‘’I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’’ with a background singer, Jackson gets carried away, urged on by his dancers standing in for the audience. Crooning, pleading and growling, the entertainer whips the group and himself into a frenzy, then playfully chastises them afterward, complaining he needs to save his voice.

Moviegoers and the dancers on the screen applauded in joyous unison. And when the film was over after nearly two hours, we all knew the truth: That even on his worst day, Michael Jackson was simply the best there ever was.

Editor’s note

Jeffrey L. Williams is a freelance writer based in Chicago and a lifelong fan of Michael Jackson. Williams, a former editor at the Chicago Tribune and Hartford Courant newspapers, is the Midwest correspondent for the Brown Report. Copyright by Jeffery L. Williams

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009