Young Michael Jackson: The Making of a Legend

Young Michael Jackson: The Making of a Legend

Written by Deepak Bhagat, In Celeb, Published On
April 6, 2024

In Short:

  • At age six, Michael Jackson started his career as the main singer of a family band called “The Jackson 5”.
  • In the early 1970s, he was the youngest Motown star and had many hits as an individual and with groups.
  • Gradually, as a mature artist, Michael Jackson released his album Off the Wall in 1979; this album was a tremendous artistic step for him.
  • By age 25, his single album Thriller, launched in 1982, had been confirmed as the highest-selling album of all time.

He only needed a few years to graduate from the typical boy to a superstar. At 11, Michael, the great lead singer of The Jackson 5, took over the pop charts in 1969 with ‘I Want You Back and ‘Jackson Mania’ in the 1970s. On the other hand, it is hard to deny that the top level of art quality Michael had at the age of 20 when he released albums like Off The Wall and Thriller catapulted him to the very top of the pop culture universe, making him a star that is second to none.

The story of superstar Michael Jackson (the singer, songwriter, and dancer from childhood) began in early childhood. He had become the most prominent celebrity in the world by age 25 and still holds the record of most recognized records even today. It is a story of how a young boy known as Michael Jackson gathered the tools and nurtured himself to become the legend of music that earned him the title of “King of Pop.”

Birth NameMichael Joseph Jackson
Date of BirthAugust 29, 1958
Place of BirthGary, Indiana, U.S.
ParentsJoe & Katherine Jackson
Siblings8 brothers, one sister
Debut Performance Age6 years old (1964, The Jackson 5)
Motown Debut1968
Move to Epic Records1976 (The Jacksons transition from Motown to Epic)
Solo Contract with Epic1978 (Michael Jackson negotiates a solo contract)
Off the Wall Release Year1979
Thriller Release Year1982
Thriller SalesOver 100 million copies worldwide
#1 Hits Before Age 2511 (Billboard Hot 100 chart)

Early Life and Family

Joseph and Katherine Jackson, of working-class descent, welcomed Michael Joseph Jackson into the world on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Indiana. The eighth child shared a small two-bedroom house, and Michael grew up with three sisters and five brothers.

The family faced economic hardship. To help make ends meet, Michael’s father, Joseph, worked long hours as a crane operator while Katherine worked part-time at Sears. As a child, Michael faced alleged emotional and physical abuse from his father during intense band rehearsals. But he found refuge in music, embracing his natural talent early on.

The Jackson 5 and Motown

In August 1964, Michael made his professional debut at age six, singing with Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon as The Jackson 5. The group built a local fan base playing talent shows and Chicago clubs. After winning a major talent competition in 1965, they were signed by Motown’s Berry Gordy in 1968.

Becoming national stars, The Jackson 5 kicked off a craze dubbed “Jackson Mania,” fueled mainly by Michael’s immense talent as lead singer. Songs like “ABC,” “I’ll Be There,” and “I Want You Back” topped the charts, showcasing Michael’s dynamic voice, electric stage presence, and polish that belied his young age.

While continuing as lead singer of The Jackson 5, Michael also pursued solo projects with Motown. Between 1972 and 1975, he released four solo albums and starred in the musical film The Wiz, laying the foundation for his later music career.

Early Solo Projects with Motown

While touring and recording with his family band, Michael also seized opportunities for solo work, eager to expand his artistry. His first solo singles included the #1 hit “Ben” and top ten entries “Rockin Robin,” “Got to Be There,” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are.

Released in 1972 when Michael was just 14 years old, the single “Ben” came from the film soundtrack of the same name. The poignant song about the friendship between a lonely boy and his ill rat connected strongly with listeners. Its musical maturity showed a creative force rapidly outgrowing his Disney-era roots.

Over his four Motown solo albums, Michael began forging an introspective, soul-influenced sound distinct from the Jackson 5. But greater independence awaited down the road.

Move to Epic Records

The Jackson brothers became increasingly frustrated by Motown’s rigid artistic control, so in 1976, they left for Epic Records. Now billed as The Jacksons, the group took over writing and producing their material aimed directly at mainstream pop audiences.

However, Michael Jackson possessed name recognition that outpaced even the rejuvenated group. After starring as the Scarecrow in the 1978 musical The Wiz, Michael negotiated a separate solo contract with Epic while staying in The Jacksons lineup.

Free from Motown, Michael gained the flexibility to shape his definitive solo sound. Teaming up with legendary producer Quincy Jones, that vision first took wings with Off the Wall.

The Epic Phase Begins with Off the Wall

1979 Michael unveiled his fifth overall and first Epic solo album, Off the Wall. It marked a creative quantum leap. Trading in his child star roots for sexy, romantic themes and state-of-the-art funk, pop, and disco beats, Michael transitioned seamlessly into an adult artist, winning critical and commercial acclaim.

Off the Wall yielded such smooth R&B gems as “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Rock With You,” “Off the Wall,” and “She’s Out Of My Life.” It sold over 20 million copies globally, generating #1 hits like “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.” But hungry for more, Michael aimed even higher for his next album, determined to make it the greatest of all time.

Thriller – Michael Jackson’s Masterpiece

In late 1982, that ambition was realized with Thriller, the biggest-selling studio album ever, which launched Michael Jackson into the pop culture stratosphere. Everything about it – the music, videos, dancing, even fashions – broke barriers and ignited worldwide trends. Powered by iconic tracks “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” and, of course, the title track, Thriller spent a record 37 weeks at #1. It sold over 100 million copies globally and made Michael Jackson a household name even in remote corners of the globe.

Combining slick pop mastery with R&B aggression and movie-esque narratives, Michael raised the bar for the possibilities of popular music and visual storytelling. Yet he was 25 years old with two era-defining blockbusters cementing his status as the “King of Pop.” From Off the Wall’s sublime soul to Thriller’s sonic perfection, young Michael Jackson reached artistic heights unmatched in pop history, leaving an indelible legacy for the ages.

Please Note: This article covers the early life and young career of Michael Jackson up until age 25 when he released Thriller in 1982. It does not delve into the more controversial later years of his life. The focus is on documenting Jackson’s early talent as a musical prodigy and the development of his iconic performance skills and innovative music that spawned such classics as “ABC,” “I Want You Back,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and “Billie Jean.”


Though only a young man when Thriller was released, Michael Jackson showed a work ethic, perfectionism, and innovator’s spirit that belied his youth. His music forged new soundscapes. His videos pioneered the medium as an art form. His dancing became iconic. And most significantly, his appeal crossed racial, national, and musical boundaries. Michael’s stardom in the early 1980s made him one of the first African American artists to reach a mass global audience. In doing so, he helped break color barriers within pop music and culture.

Furthermore, Michael’s popularity helped put the then-fledgling MTV network firmly on the map, showing that music mattered more than race. As Michael matured and evolved as an artist, the innocence of his early youth was gone. However, a legend was already born with masterworks like Off the Wall and Thriller, created when he was barely a man. Though his story would become far more complex, Michael, in those years, made the purest expressions of his artistry – and of pop music itself. For generations of fans worldwide, he remains forever young.


When Michael Jackson made his professional stage debut, how old was he?

In August 1964, Michael made his professional debut at the age of six, performing with his siblings as part of The Jackson 5.

Why did Michael sound so different in his early adolescence?

Like many males, Michael experienced a severe voice shift at puberty. As he grew older, his voice changed from a boy soprano to a tenor.

Which album marked Michael’s breakthrough?

With the release of Off the Wall in 1979, Michael made a significant artistic breakthrough and launched his wildly lucrative adult solo career. But Thriller, which was released in 1982, was the masterpiece that would define his career a few years later.

Michael and his siblings left Motown Records for what reason?

Because Motown held their brand and likeness and allowed them little creative control, they felt that their creativity was being repressed. 1976 saw the brothers depart Motown in search of greater artistic freedom.

How many #1 solo hits did Michael Jackson when he was younger?

Before turning 25 in 1983, Michael achieved eleven #1 successes on the Billboard Hot 100 list both as the lead singer of The Jackson 5 and as a solo performer.

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