By Giavonni Nickson
Tito and Jackie Jackson of the legendary “Jackson 5” made a triumphant return to their hometown, Gary , IN, after nearly 50 years. Their visit marked a historic occasion as the last time the Jackson brothers visited the Steel City in 1971 for a concert that eventually appeared in the “Goin’ Back to Indiana” special on ABC.
Tito and Jackie Jackson stopped by West Side Leadership Academy (WSLA) Wednesday, January 8, to take a glimpse of the West Side Theatre Guild (WSTG). Mark Spencer, Director of the West Side Theatre Guild (WSTG) and Fine Arts for the Gary Community School Corporation (GCSC), took the Jackson brothers on a guided tour that highlighted the band room, auditorium, orchestra room, recording studio, television studio, and theatre on the school’s campus.
As they journeyed through the halls, the Jacksons watched students, who shared their love for music and the arts, perform classic Jackson hits. Each stop along the tour was a musical walk down memory lane for the Jacksons who signed their first record deal with Steeltown Records in 1967. Both brothers shook hands and greeted students encouraging them to follow their dreams and never give up.
Orchestra conductor, Rovelli Grib said “Thank you for visiting us,” to the Jacksons after students serenaded the Jacksons with a musical piece they rehearsed for an upcoming Indiana State School Music Association competition.
Early in the morning before the Jacksons arrived, it was sunny outside, and inside, “I’ll Be There” and “I Want You Back” echoed through the main theatre as students and local performers created synergy warming up for the day’s performance.
Spencer escorted the Jacksons into the main theatre, where murals that capture visualized musicality lined the back walls. Spencer boasted,” This is the largest house in the region,” of the theatre.
Graffiti artist Felix “Flex” Maldonado, who painted the mural in WSLA’S theatre, also painted the four-story Jackson 5 mural located on a vacant building at 561 Broadway. The City of Gary commissioned the mural, which features the famous Jackson brothers and a young King of Pop, Michael Jackson, in vivid detail with black and white paint on the brick exterior.
Maldonado said, “I feel like I’ve come full circle” about meeting the Jacksons for the first time during Wednesday’s visit. “It feels awesome. I’m kind of speechless and star struck because these guys are icons,” said Maldonado.
Spencer told the Jacksons, “We do this to honor you,” just before singer-songwriter Taylor Iman took the stage. Iman’s riveting rendition of the Jacksons classic “I’ll Be There” moved Jackie Jackson to tears. He jumped up to join Taylor on stage as she belted out the songs final note. Jackie Jackson gave Taylor a hug of gratitude on stage as Tito Jackson applauded.
After the performance, Iman said she was both excited nervous with the Jacksons seated in the front row.
Director of GCSC Family and Community Engagement (FACE) team Tennille Foster-Milsap said of the visit, “It’s really amazing because they get to see our students in action in Gary Indiana. We want everybody to know that we have wonderful students. Mr. Spencer does an awesome job working with the students and with this production.”
Milsap then recited the slogan “Gary Proud, Gary Strong, Gary Schools,” with pride.
“This was an experience the students will never forget,” said WSLA Track Coach Dr. Veronica “Tiny” Williams. “The Jacksons are true icons, and we are just thankful for what they did in their music. Their legacy that will last forever.”
On the last stop of the tour, Spencer thanked Emergency Manager Dr. Peter Morikis and team members for helping repair and transform an old classroom into the WSTG TV Studio for students and the community. The room, formerly used for substitute classes, was once impaired with rain from roof damage insufficiently covered with tarps.
In the WSTG TV Studio, Chelsea Whittington asked the Jacksons to share their favorite memories of growing up in the steel city.
Jackie recounted moments on stage performing as a child with his brothers in talents shows at Roosevelt High School just a block away from their home at 2300 Jackson St. “I remember performing around town at talent shows and we would always win. Gary brought the best out of us,” said Jackson.
Tito mentioned being anxious to attend Roosevelt, but the family moved before he was of age. He shared memories of his time at Beckman Middle School, having a crush on neighborhood girls, and playing baseball in the city.
The Jacksons shared plans to come back to the city because, as they both stated, “Gary will always be home.”
Founded in Gary in 1965, the “Jackson 5” sold more than 100 million records worldwide, making them one of the best-selling bands of all time. Their recordings “ABC” and “I Want You Back” are among the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 songs that shaped rock and roll and