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Encore: day of the Jacksons

Thirty years ago, Diana Ross ”invited” the music world to meet Motown’s newest group, the Jackson 5.

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The simply worded invitation went out to the press and several hundred music-industry luminaries: ”Please join me in welcoming a brilliant musical group, the Jackson Five…at the Daisy, North Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills. [Signed] Diana Ross.” The Daisy was a hot L.A. disco, and Ross, of course, was Motown Records’ reigning soulstress. And on Aug. 11, 1969, she introduced five siblings from Gary, Ind., who a few years earlier were playing talent shows.

The boys had already recorded on the small Steeltown label in Gary. But once Motown founder Berry Gordy brought the progeny of frustrated musician and crane operator Joe Jackson to Hollywood, the Jackson 5 (Jackie, 18; Tito, 15; Jermaine, 14; Marlon, 12; and Michael, 10) were on their way to becoming ”the sound of young America.” And at the Daisy — where they performed a selection of Motown hits — the assembled bigwigs heard the sound of money.

The quintet’s sweet, soul-pop falsettos and angelic demeanor struck just the right note. Their debut album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, included their first No. 1 hit, ”I Want You Back.” In 1970 alone, the group had four No. 1 singles, including ”ABC” and ”I’ll Be There,” and they would spawn a cottage industry that included a quarterly fan magazine devoted to the group, decals, sweaters, and a Saturday-morning cartoon.

But their meteoric rise didn’t come without a little turbulence: In 1973, Jermaine complicated matters by marrying Gordy’s daughter Hazel, and by 1975, amid disputes with Motown — which centered on, among other things, artistic freedom, how the boys were being marketed, and royalties — the group (without Jermaine) departed for CBS’ Epic label. Even though they’d left the Motown family, Ross remained a presence in their lives. The irony is that at the time she ”introduced” them, Ross barely knew who they were; yet at photo ops and on The Ed Sullivan Show, the proto-diva took credit for discovering the soon-to-be superstars.

In fact, it was another Motown star, Gladys Knight, who had brought them to Motown’s attention more than a year earlier. But Gordy, the ironfisted ruler of ”Hitsville, USA,” decided to cast Ross as the group’s mentor — perhaps because he had been involved with the 25-year-old Supreme, or because he figured Ross needed the extra glow of finding the Next Hot Thing as she was about to embark on a solo career. Either way, that summer night at the Daisy gave the Jacksons their first taste of big-time showbiz, and a lesson that nothing’s ever as easy as A-B-C.

Time Capsule / Aug. 11, 1969
At the Movies, Paul Newman and wife Joanne Woodward speed across screens in the race-car flick Winning. It’s the sixth time the couple costar together.
On TV, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In is a silly top show.
In Music, Zager & Evans’ ”In the Year 2525” is the trippy No. 1 pop single.
In Bookstores, Jacqueline Susann’s The Love Machine heats up fiction lovers.
And in the News, police hunt for the killers of Sharon Tate and four others after discovering a gruesome crime scene two days earlier. The assailants will later be known as the Manson Family.

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