Fair. Balanced. American.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Apollo, Al and Joe

Um... Now what, exactly, did the Apollo Theater have to do with "launching Michael Jackson's career?" Yes, the Jackson 5 won an amateur night competition at the legendary venue. But is there any evidence that Berry Gordy signed them because of the win?

Um... no. None at all.

The Jackson Five had a number of admirers in their early days, including Sam & Dave, who helped the group secure a spot in the famous Amateur Night competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The group won the August 13, 1967, competition during the Amateur Night showdown at the Apollo, impressing Motown Records artist Gladys Knight of The Pips. Knight recommended the group to Motown chief Berry Gordy, but Gordy, who already had teenager Stevie Wonder on his roster, was hesitant to take on another child act because of the child labor laws and other problems involved.

If any theater deserves mention as having been pivotal to the Jackson 5's discovery, it's Chicago's Regal Theater.

By 1968, The Jackson 5 were a headlining act for the All Star Floor Show at Chicago's The Guys' and Gals' Cocktail Lounge and Restaurant. From August 12–27, 1968, The Jackson 5 opened for Motown group Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers at Chicago's Regal Theater. Taylor was also very impressed with the boys, and he decided to make the commitment to bring them to Detroit and Motown. Joseph and The Jackson Five stayed on the floor of Bobby Taylor's Detroit apartment the night of July 22, while Taylor and Motown executive Suzanne de Passe arranged for The Jackson Five to audition for the label.

On July 23, The Jackson Five had their Motown audition, for which they performed James Brown’s then current hit "I Got the Feelin'". Berry Gordy was not in attendance, but the audition was videotaped and sent to him in Los Angeles. Gordy's initial reluctance to sign the group disappeared when he finally saw the boys perform. Gordy decided to sign The Jackson Five to Motown, and hosted a party at his Detroit mansion on November 25, 1968 to introduce them to the Motown staff and stars.


Give the Apollo Theater's management credit. They figured out that the ignorant white media would buy their "we discovered the Jackson 5" storyline hook, line and sinker. It's the only black theater they know! So it's only right that Tawana Brawley's Joe Jackson's friend Al Sharpton should lead today's celebration at the legendary theater.

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