Jackson family patriarch dies at 89

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IN THIS EARLY 70s photograph Joseph W. Jackson (far right) takes his sons to visit the main office of Inland Steel’s Indiana Harbor Works.

By Stephanie GadlinSpecial to the Crusader Newspaper Group

Joseph Jackson, father of the iconic musical family, The Jacksons, and manager of the Jackson 5, died reportedly of cancer on Wednesday in hospice at a Los Angeles hospital at age 89. His passing comes nearly nine years to the date of the death of his iconic superstar son, Michael Jackson.

Born Joseph Walter “Joe” Jackson on July 26, 1928 in Fountain Hill, AR, he was the eldest of five children. He moved with his father to Oakland, CA, until age 18 when he moved to East Chicago, IN, with his mother. It would be the place where he would meet his wife, Katherine Screws, whom he married in 1949.

PHOTOGRAPHED VISITING THE Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell and his daughter (seated), Melanie, in 1971 is Joseph Jackson with his sons. Pictured l-r: Marlon Jackson, Joseph Jackson, Azira Hill, Jermaine Jackson, Mayor Sam Massell, Jackie, Tito and Michael Jackson. (Chicago Crusader Archives)

The couple settled in Gary at 2300 Jackson Street, where Mr. Jackson worked full-time as a crane operator at U.S. Steel. In the mid-1950s, the patriarch started a music career with his brother, Luther, where he played guitar in a band called The Ford Falcons. By 1964, he had turned his attention to his musically-inclined sons and eventually formed the Jackson 5.

After his superstar son, known globally as the King of Pop, revealed the harsh realities of growing up poor and under the strict guidance of his father, Joe Jackson was scorned in the press for alleged child abuse and often credited for Michael Jackson’s physical transformation and introverted demeanor over the years. Michael Jackson was killed by Dr. Conrad Murray and his death rocked people throughout the world.

In a Crusader interview in 2005, Joe Jackson told this reporter, “Yes, I whipped my children, and I won’t apologize for it,” he said at the time. “I did what a father is supposed to do—and not one of them is on drugs, been in a gang or have been begging people for bread. I raised millionaires with good minds. Yeah, I whipped my kids, but I didn’t abuse anybody.”

As news of the patriarch’s passing began to spread, local leaders offered their thoughts on the elder Jackson’s legacy.

MR. AND MRS. JOSEPH JACKSON, pose for photographs following the marriage of their son, Jermaine, to Hazel Joy Gordy on December 15, 1973. (Crusader archives)

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the Crusader she called and offered condolences to Mrs. Jackson and other family members, and she would look into whether they wanted a local, citywide tribute paid to Mr. Jackson. “That is [any citywide tribute] is dependent upon what the family would like to do,” she said. “I reached out to Mrs. Jackson and Randy to express my condolences. He was someone who was well-known and loved by the city of Gary.”

“The Jackson family is the most successful family in the history of the record industry, and family is something we should be shooting for in the community because some of these kids need a belt or switch,” said Glenn Cosby, V103 radio personality and creator of the Jackson Radio Network. “[Mr. Jackson] was villainized in the press for doing something that most fathers in that era did, which is discipline his children. God bless him and his family, and I hope as a community we learn from that lesson.”

Cosby founded the Jackson Radio Network in 2001 with the support of both Joe Jackson and his wife, Katherine. Reportedly, Michael Jackson expressed interest in the project, but was killed weeks before a meeting was set to take place. “Joe saw the vision early on,” Cosby said. “He understood what his family’s legacy was and he thought having an entire network dedicated to his children was a true testament to the sacrifices he and his wife made.

“Think about it,” Cosby added, “they raised nine children in a house no bigger than a garage on one income.  I salute him for having a destination in his GPS. He knew his sons were ready for Motown and ready to meet the world; and he deserves credit for that. One hundred years from [now], scholars will be studying that entire family the way people study Beethoven now.”

Marshall Thompson, founder and leader of the legendary Chi-Lites, echoed Cosby’s sentiments. He told the Crusader, “Joe was the greatest entertainment manager in the world and his passing is one of the greatest losses we’ve ever had. We’ve been working together since 1968, and I’ve never met anyone else who had just a keen eye for business in the music industry. You have to be tough to do it. You’ve got to be smart. He was all of that.”

The Chi-Lites, which came out of Chicago, were instrumental in the Jackson 5 being discovered by Motown, according to Thompson. When the quartet was slated to perform at the Regal Theatre in 1968—a break the group had been working toward for months—Thompson encouraged his bandmates to give up their spot to five boys from Gary who “needed a shot.”

“I had been working with [Mr. Jackson], and I knew him and he told me his boys were ready,” Thompson said. “So [the Chi-Lites] gave our spot to the kids, and the rest is history. After winning that show, they went to Detroit that night to see Barry Gordy. All of that is because their father was not only a great manager, but also because he believed wholeheartedly that they were destined for greatness, and he was right.”

Family members could not be reached at Crusader press deadline; however, John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the estate of Michael Jackson, released a statement as told to The Wrap.

“We are deeply saddened by Mr. Jackson’s passing and extend our heartfelt condolences to Mrs. Katherine Jackson and the family.  Joe was a strong man who acknowledged his own imperfections and heroically delivered his sons and daughters from the steel mills of Gary, Indiana, to worldwide pop superstardom.

“Mr. Jackson’s contributions to the history of music are enormous,” the statement continued. “They were acknowledged by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002  in a proclamation naming him as Best Entertainment Manager of All Time; he was inducted into Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2014, and his son, Michael, acknowledged him with a Joe Jackson Day at Neverland. We had developed a warm relationship with Joe in recent years and will miss him tremendously.”

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