Monday, January 31, 2011

African Fans

Nothing had prepared the Jackson 5 for the level of recognition and love they received when they were in Senegal. During the trip, Jackie commented that he had had no idea they had so many African fans, and that they were just like fans in the United States.

It's true. They played to record audiences who danced and screamed and applauded, just like American fans did. And wherever the Jackson 5 went, they were recognized. But they weren't so much mobbed as treated with reverence and respect. Here's a great photo of Jackie, stopping to talk with young fans in the market area.

And Marlon was a favorite with the young ladies -- and scorned by jealous boys -- at home and in Senegal.

But everywhere the J5 went, it was Randy who was showered with attention and adoration. Maybe it was because he was the smallest. Maybe it was his willingness to jump right in and learn the traditional dances. Or maybe it was an appreciation for his drumming. Whatever the reason, he was the only group member who was given a ceremonial robe at the end of one of their concerts.

In the photo to the left, he poses with a Nigerian student. From the expression on Randy's face, it looks like he is already tired of posing for photos with adoring fans. He just wants to get out and snap some pictures. But wait! Some of the student's friends also want to pose for a photo with Randy.

At the far left side of this photo, you can see just the edge of Michael, who is being completely ignored by the students who only have eyes for Randy.

Speaking of Nigeria, the only thing in my collection that's from Africa is a photocard from Nigeria. It measures 4 x 6 inches, and if you look closely, you can see it's actually a photograph of a poster that was once folded, and has been tacked to wooden planks of a floor or wall.

I absolutely treasure this item. It's one of my favorite artifacts, due to its origin. I sometimes wonder about the Nigerian fan who bought this card and kept it safely for so many years before it found its way to eBay and my collection. Even though Randy was not included in the photo.

Bientot a Dakar

On January 29, 1974, the Jackson 5 boarded a plane headed for Dakar, Senegal, in the early evening hours. They were scheduled to play their first concerts there and for the Jackson brothers, this would be their very first trip to the African continent. They landed in Dakar, Senegal, early the next morning, just before sunrise, with an entourage of about two-dozen associates and members of the press.

They were greeted by dignitaries, government officials, traditional dancers, and crowds of fans as they deplaned, and they were quickly led into a VIP lounge inside the airport for a quick press conference. After meeting with the press, they spent more time watching the dancers, and eventually joined them, trying to learn their steps. Reports indicate that Randy picked up the dances faster than anyone else, one of the many ways he endeared himself to Senegalese fans and quickly became the darling of the group.

Although the trip was billed as an "African Tour," in truth the Jackson 5 performed only three concerts, all in Dakar. Originally there had been talk of them traveling to Ghana, Zambia, and Ethiopia for some additional concerts, but the tour was cut short and they never made it past Senegal. Reports vary as to why the additional dates were cut. Some say it was due to "technicalities" and others say that it proved too hard for the Jackson brothers to adjust to the changes in food and water.

Instead of traveling elsewhere to perform, the Jackson family got the chance to explore Senegal a bit. They went to Joal, a traditional fishing village, shopped in the markets of Dakar for souvenirs, and traveled to Goree Island, the departure point for many African captives who had been sent to the United States as slaves in earlier centuries. According to all reports, the brothers were deeply affected by the visit to Goree, so much so that their second and third concerts were much less exuberant than their first one had been.

Over the next week we'll take a closer look at the Jackson 5's momentous trip to Africa by looking at the press coverage, photos, the documentary film that was made about their trip, and even a show-and-tell day they did after they returned to the U.S. Bientôt!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Sepia Hits a Grand Slam Home Run

Most J5 fans and collectors are familiar with Sepia magazine because they know the October 1971 issue when the Jackson 5 appeared on the cover. Sepia was similar to Ebony, in that it covered African-American news and entertainers, and was heavily illustrated with black-and-white photos.

Six months earlier, however, the April 1971 issue of Sepia had carried an eight-page feature on the group's return to Gary, called "The Jackson 5 'Go Home'" but you'd never know it from the magazine's cover. I only found it by looking through bound back issues of Sepia in my local Historical Society. So imagine my surprise when I came across this treasure trove of rare photos and first-hand reporting. It makes an excellent argument for why collectors shouldn't limit themselves to collecting magazines with J5 covers. Given a choice between a posed color cover photo and eight pages of rare black-and-white photos and an informative article, I'd choose the latter.

Since this is the best article I've found to date on the subject, with some of the best candid J5 photos ever, I've scanned the entire thing. My personal favorite is the photo of Jackie, Jermaine, Michael, Marlon, and Johnny in their matching brown leather jackets, sitting on the couch in their old family living room at 2300 Jackson Street. Sorry about the tight margins on the scans. Sepia was an oversized magazine, and the only copy I've seen of the April 1971 issue was part of a tightly bound volume. (And, as usual, click on the individual pages to enlarge them.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The J5 Make National News in Gary

The Jackson 5's return to Gary in January 1971 wasn't just reported as local news. It was widely covered on a national level.

It was reported with a photo spread in the March 22, 1971, issue of Soul. Check out the security guard looking directly at the camera on the far right side of the first photo, and again in the last photo on the far left side. It looks like he wasn't thrilled with the photographers.

Spec teen magazine reported on the return in their July 1971 issue, claiming it was "the happiest day of their lives!" All of the photos suggest otherwise. In fact, the J5 look about as happy as their security guard.

The best coverage of the J5's return to Gary, however, appeared in Sepia magazine. It was so extensive that it merits its own post, so tune in tomorrow for another installment of national press coverage.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Who Were the Keepers of the Dream?

This photo of a "Welcome Home Jackson 5" sign posted in front of 2300 Jackson Street in January 1971 has been widely seen by fans over the years. It's led many people to believe -- understandably -- that the Jackson 5 had been dubbed "Keepers of the Dream" by their hometown.

A clipping from the Gary Crusader dated January 30, 1971, however, tells us that "The Keepers of the Dream" were high school students in Gary who had formed an organization "dedicated to the realization of the goals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

Some former group member probably has that sign in his garage somewhere in Gary. I wonder what happened to their J5 plaque that you see in the foreground.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Concert at West Side High

The day before the Jackson 5 arrived in their hometown, The Gary Crusader, the city's local Black newspaper, ran a full-page ad promoting their concert.

Amazingly, the superstar group was scheduled to perform two concerts the next day -- in a local high school gymnasium. We can only imagine what the sound quality must have been like, not to mention the challenges security must have faced with getting the capacity crowd of 8,000 excited teens in and out of a space not designed for such events. And not just any teens. These were teens who all felt like they had some sort of personal connection -- real or imagined -- to the Jackson family.

With all the press coverage given to the Jackson 5's return to Gary, I have found very little about the actual concert, which was, after all, the purpose of their visit. I have learned from press reports that the Jackson 5 performed for 50 minutes at each concert, and that they were preceded by their usual opening acts, Yvonne Fair and the Commodores.

There are, however, photos from the concert that come from various sources. here's one that was published in Jet magazine. The spotlight is on Michael, but look at Marlon in the background, singing his heart out.

I wish I had a better copy of this grainy photo I found in the Gary Crusader. I like it not only because it shows the whole group on stage but because you can see the scoreboard behind them, listing the players' names. These are the kids who would have played as Jackie's rivals if things had been different and he had had a normal life as a high school basketball star. You can also see the sign painted on the wall that says "West Side High School."

The oddest source for concert photos, though, was a strange compilation album that came out from Musico Records in 1971 called Getting Together with the Jackson 5. It includes only two songs from the Jackson 5, "We Don't Have to Be over 21 to Fall in Love" and "Some Girls Want Me for Their Lover." It also includes songs from artists such as Jerry Butler, Frankie Lymon, and the Platters -- but you'd never know it from the pictures on the cover, which are all Jackson 5. There are eight photos in all and they were all taken at the concert at West Side High School in Gary. They're grainy and they appear to have been taken by an amateur photographer. I've blown them up and am posting them here for your viewing pleasure.

The J5 Have Landed!

They came via helicopter and landed in the football field at West Side High School, where their concerts were to be held. They looked none too happy about the cold weather in the only press photo I have in my collection.

The Chicago Defender documented the event by devoting an entire page to photos of their arrival. Look for our friend, reporter Bill Passmore, in the crowd. You knew he wouldn't miss it.

Monday, January 24, 2011

From Jackson Street to Jackson 5 Blvd

Almost two weeks before the Jackson 5 returned to Gary, Mayor Richard G. Hatcher issued an official proclamation that honored them changing the name of the street they had once lived on from Jackson Street to Jackson 5 Boulevard. The proclamation was printed in its entirety in several Back newspapers, including the Chicago Defender.

This was actually not the first time the Jackson 5 had returned to Gary since they had followed Motown to Los Angeles. They had come to Gary in August of 1969, where they performed on August 30 at Gilroy Stadium with a host of other Motown artists, including Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, and Yvonne Fair. At that time, the Jackson 5 were photographed with Mayor Hatcher, giving the Black Power salute.

So just who was Mayor Richard Hatcher, and what was the relationship between him and the Jackson 5? Certainly part of it was pure local pride, since the Jackson family had lived in Gary, Indiana, and Hatcher was the city's mayor at the time they rose to national fame. But the Jackson 5 were frequently honored with ceremonies and were given keys to cities they had never lived in, and had only traveled to for a concert appearance.

With Mayor Hatcher, however, it went deeper than that. He was the first Black mayor of Gary, elected in 1967 after a hard-won battle against a white Republican candidate. And even though Hatcher ran on a Democratic ticket, he had all but been disowned by the Democratic party who feared that he would subvert the status quo with his radical politics.

Since Hatcher the candidate got no money from the Democratic party, many African-Americans from around the nation offered their support. To them, Hatcher had become a symbol of change, freedom, and self-determination, so much so that he garnered support from Black celebrities with as disparate political points of view as Dick Gregory (a militant anti-war activist) and Sammy Davis Jr. (a conservative Republican). At a 1968 Hatcher fundraiser, for instance, Harry Belafonte and Bill Cosby joined Dick Gregory and Sammy Davis, Jr. on stage.

One of Hatcher's biggest supporters was Berry Gordy, Jr. On September 28, 1968, Gordy offered some of his biggest stars to honor Mayor Hatcher as "the mayor of the century." Stevie Wonder, Shorty Long, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, and Abdullah performed for an audience of 8,000 Gary teens. Proceeds from "Motown Soul Day" went to "disadvantaged youths" and the ticket price was just $1.50 to make it affordable to those who didn't have a lot of money. Reports of the event from the Chicago Defender do not indicate whether any local groups performed. If so, the Jackson 5 would have been likely candidates (and isn't it interesting that two of the Motown groups who did perform are the two most frequently credited with discovering the J5?).

Whether the Jackson 5 were there or not, this is likely the event that was later re-imagined and re-shaped into the infamous Diana Ross discovery story. (I can't find evidence of Diana Ross ever appearing at an event for the mayor of Gary.) Even Mayor Hatcher played along with the Motown publicity scheme, mentioning it in a telegram allegedly sent to Ross by Hatcher, congratulating her for discovering the Jackson 5. The telegram was included in the Jackson 5's first press kit. He specifically mentions that he looks forward to the Jackson 5 returning for the second annual Motown Soul Day (later called Festival Gary '69).

So back to Jackson Street. Mayor Hatcher's proclamation, which you can read in its entirety in the press clipping at the top of this post, states that Jackson Street will temporarily be named Jackson 5 Boulevard from January 25-31, 1971. When the Jacksons landed in on January 31, they were presented with the new street signs in front of their old house at 2300 Jackson Street.

It would take a first-person account from someone who was in Gary that week for us to know if the street signs were ever erected and, if so, how long they remained in place before some lucky fan got a nice souvenir. We do, however, know exactly what happened to the signs the Jacksons were given.

I wonder if they are still there.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

They're Comin' Back to Indiana!

The first one to break the news that the Jackson 5 were returning to Gary was Bill Passmore, in his Defender column, "East Chicago On the Go." He predicted (rightly) that the Jackson 5 would have to schedule two shows to accommodate all who wanted to attend.

He followed up two weeks later with the news that tickets had gone on sale and were selling briskly, but there was still time to show your support for Mayor Hatcher. OK?

There were apparently still tickets available a week before the concert, so he noted the appearance again. This time, he made it personal.

If you lived in East Chicago in 1971 and you missed the Jackson 5 concert in Gary, don't blame Bill Passmore.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Coming to J5 Collector Next Week

The Jackson 5 returned to Gary, Indiana, on a cold winter day 40 years ago. Find out more about it next week on J5 Collector.