Michael Jackson death: One year later

Lina Stephens
Curator, Motown Museum
Friday, June 25, 2010; 12:00 PM

Today the world remembers Michael Jackson.

Hundreds and maybe thousands will gather in Gary, Ind., the Jackson family hometown, to witness the unveiling of a statue to honor the pop icon; his mother Katherine is expected to attend. In Los Angeles fans will gather at Forest Lawn Memorial Park where the King of Pop is entombed. And in Detroit, where it all started, Motown announces today the opening of an exhibit, which will feature photographs from concert performances, television appearances, international tours and the TV cartoon series featuring the Jackson 5.

Motown Museum curator Lina Stephens was online Friday, June 25, at Noon ET to talk about the early days of the Jackson 5, the emergence of Michael Jackson as a solo artist and stories of of their lives on the road and on the charts.


Lina Stephens: Hello, I'm Lina Stephens, Chief Curator of the Motown Museum.


Bethesda, Md.: How was Michael offstage..during the Motown years..his demeanor

Lina Stephens: He was a shy, child, he enjoyed playing with his brothers.


Los Angeles, Calif.: What would be your thoughts about either moving or having a second museum honoring Michael Jackson in Los Angeles? I ask this because it would be more accessible to more fans than would Gary, and Michael also had strong roots to southern California.

Lina Stephens: I have heard that there is to be a Jackson 5 museum in their hometown of Gary, Indiana. However, I do think that Michael is a big enough talent to support a museum anywhere.


Fairfax, Va.: Back in the day were the Jackson 5 enamored of the big Motown stars before they themselves became stars? What did the old guard at Motown think of the new young guys?

Lina Stephens: They thought that they were talented kids. It was also the beginning of a new era for Motown since the company had moved to LA. Therefore, they were handled in a different manner than the older artists.


Washington, D.C.: What will the Motown Museum be doing special today to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Michael's death?

Lina Stephens: We have local television and radio stations doing live interviews; we have a Michael Jackson impersonator performing; and, we have the Jackson 5 exhibit in the Museum. We also have Michael Jackson items in the gift shop.


Annapolis, Md.: Did Michael and his brothers ever come back for a visit to Motown in Detroit?

Lina Stephens: Michael has been to the Museum several times. However, we have no record of his brothers visiting.


Orlando, Fla.: What's your fondest memory of Michael?

Lina Stephens: Michael Jackson had a way of capturing his audience with a flair that can not be justly described. It is clear that he was a very old soul.


Washington, D.C.: What was the reaction at Motown and in Detroit when Michael Jackson had died?

Lina Stephens: Pure and utter shock. We got the news by 5:20 p.m. (EST) and by 5:30 p.m., his fans had started to leave tributes in his honor on the steps of the Museum.


Washington, D.C.: I just have a comment about Michael Jackson. To me he was a man who loved people and just was not accepted for what he was. He was kind and gentle and in this world that should be the norm but it's considered weird. He was one of if not the best entertainer of all time. His fans seem to see him in a better light than others who made fun of him and made his life a living hell. I don't think we will see anyone of his talent for years to come.

Lina Stephens: I agree.


Annandale, Va.: Who discovered the Jackson 5? Diana Ross, Gladys Knight? Suzanne de Passe?

Lina Stephens: Actually, it was Bobby Taylor of the Vancouvers. Then, Gladys Knight had witnessed the Jackson 5 during a performance at the Apollo Theater in New York.


What the?: Am guessing I was born/raised between the two "icons" of music -- Elvis and MJ -- and so do not quite "get" their importance. Given this is a MJ chat, what was his definitive contribution to music/culture?

Lina Stephens: Michael Jackson achieved a 'first' in a lot of musical milestones: He was the youngest performer to have a #1 hit song and four consecutive #1 hit songs; his album, "Thriller" is still the best-selling LP of all time; he has had awards created in his name and likeness to award other performers; he was the first African-American artist to have his music videos played on MTV. He also changed the scope of how music videos are traditionally made in that, they were like movie productions that each told a story. His messages of peace and love in his songs and in his philanthropy were not fake. Therefore, millions of people could identify with him and embraced his philosophy as, it did not attack anyone's religious, political or moral views, but it just had a universal appeal. This is what I think makes Michael a phenomenon and why he has so many people, globally, that absolutely adored him.


Perryville, Md.: Where the Jackson 5 "good boys" or were they misbehaved? I've heard stories that MJ was mischievous.

Lina Stephens: Yes, all of the Jackson 5 members were good boys. And, yes, Michael liked to play practical jokes, but I think that was to keep things lighthearted on the road.


West Palm, Fla: Michael was obviously an profoundly talented child, a prodigy of sorts, but did you have any idea he would become an entertainment icon?

Lina Stephens: No, I don't think anyone had an idea that Michael would become all that he did. However, in his musical evolution, his iconic status seemed almost inevitable.


Washington, D.C.: What happens at Motown now? Is any recording ever done there anymore? Or is it basically a museum?

Lina Stephens: Motown is a Museum.


Hollywood, Calif.: Do you remember where you were when MJ died? I do! There is a CNN/HLN host, Jane Velez -- who has covered MJ from the beginning. She should have some fantastic guests on her show "Issues" tonight. Apparently Michael's father has finally filed a lawsuit -- and I think he could win. So sad....

Lina Stephens: Yes. I had just left work and I had received a call from a local reporter with a confirmation of Michael's passing. That info was the last thing I expected to hear. Hopefully, the events that have occurred after his passing will come to a quick and just resolution and not blemish the memory of Michael.


Baltimore, Md.: Did you have any indication back then that Michael Jackson might turn into the person he did and that his end would be tragic?

Lina Stephens: Again, I'm not sure that anyone could have predicted the person that Michael would have become. It is very sad that his life would be cut so short. But, as we've seen in history, some of the brightest stars seem to leave us way too soon.


Chicago, Ill.: Will anybody move into their home?

Lina Stephens: If you are referring to the home in which Michael died, there is someone already occupying it. I believe it is Christian Audigier, the designer of the Ed Hardy line. Neverland Ranch? Not anytime soon.


Washington, D.C. : What other Motown stars have come back to visit their old digs? I realize many are dying off and I'm saddened by that.

Lina Stephens: Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Joe Billingslea (of the Contours), Duke Fakir (last living original member of The Four Tops), Otis Williams (last living original member of The Temptations), just to name a few! They all come back home. :)


Washington, D.C.: When the group recorded for Motown there was a special production team that produced their records which included hand-picked staff producers by Berry Gordy and Gordy himself. Why did he do this?

Lina Stephens: The reason is that the hit songwriting of Holland-Dozier-Holland was gone, therefore, Mr. Gordy created The Corporation to create hit songs for the J5.


India: Dear Prince, Paris and Blanket We're With You

When you miss mj, we're with you in spirit, wondering how you feel, hoping you're coping, and getting a little better each day. We understand. We care. When you're grieving, we're beside you, in our hearts, in our thoughts, we're sending you sympathy, encouragement, affection, and strength to carry on with life. mj would want it that way. we all love you mansi arora

Lina Stephens: Michael would appreciate your concern for his children.


Lina Stephens: I'm sure Murray will not pay what we all think that he needs to pay. But, he will have to live with what he has done.


Jacksonville, Fla.: In the bustle of people coming forward saying all kinds of things what would you like the world to know about Michael that it may not already know?

Lina Stephens: I think, basically, we know all we need. I think we need to celebrate the positive contributions of the man.


washingtonpost.com: This concludes our chat with Lina Stephens, curator at the Motown Museum. Thanks for joining in.


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