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The Jacksons reunite for the first time in 28 years on Unity Tour
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of Illinois Entertainer

For practically the past five decades, The Jacksons have reigned supreme as the most famous family in America, and through there’s certainly been some struggles along the way, its various musical factions have truly stood the test of time. Fans of brothers Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Tito will get a chance to hear for themselves this summer as they reunite for The Jacksons’ Unity Tour, which marks their first in 28 years. Besides promising plenty of classics from The Jackson 5’s early days through the brothers’ 1980s reinvention, there are also plans for solo selections and a tribute to their late great sibling Michael.

“The problem we’re having right now is trying to pick the songs for the show because there are so many,” lets out Jackie with a laugh, phoning from home in California. “We don’t want to leave anything out, but there’s not enough time to do everything. There’s going to be some surprises, and trust me, it’s going to be a great show. I wish Michael was here with us, but his spirit will be in the house with us on all these performances. We’re taking turns on lead and there’s a section for Michael.”

The Unity Tour kicks off June 18 and winds through July 29, concurrently coinciding with the third anniversary of the King of Pop’s June 25th passing, the DVD release “The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty” (A&E) and even Black Music Month. But in looking at the group’s vast catalogue, which includes giant smashes like “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” “I’ll Be There,” “Can You Feel It” and “Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground),” its music has clearly transcended all races, cultures and even decades.

“I like “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “I’ll Be There.” There are so many songs that we’ve made that it’s hard to pick out a favorite one, but those are the two that stand out,” asserts Jackie. “I think we fit in very well with the modern musical landscape today, but also when people come to see us, they want to the hear stuff that they’re used to hearing. You can still add certain drum beats, but they still want to hear that Jackson flavor at the same time. You can’t go far away from that.”

Even with all the time that’s passed since The Jacksons’ last original studio album (1989’s 2300 Jackson Street), fans have been chomping at the bit to hear pretty much any incarnation of the group. While a full-fledged Jackson 5 reunion is impossible at this point, Michael was in full support of the foursome’s decision prior to his passing, while fans and other prominent kin continuously encouraged the comeback. 

“We decided we should go out because the fans kept calling us and saying we should tour,” confirms Jackie. “This is something Michael wanted us to do as well and my sister Janet said ‘guys, please go out and do it. Please do it for me and do it for yourselves.’ So we just thought we’ve gotta go on and do it…We’re [also] recording and putting songs together [but] right now we don’t even have a name for the record.”

While future career prospects are clearly brewing for The Jacksons, there’s hardly a day that goes by when the guys don’t look back at their humble beginnings. Long before they were superstars, parents Joseph and Katherine raised Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael, Rebbie, La Toya, Randy and Janet all in an unbelievably small Gary, Indiana home. The family still owns the property today and locals regularly camp out in the driveway to catch a glimpse of any visitors, while a monument to Michael in the yard and a customized street sign on the corner have attracted additional tourists. 

“It’s so funny because at the time I was living there I thought the home was so big,” jokes Jackie. “I thought it was a mansion, but now my garage is bigger than the whole house. There was a lot of love going through the house. That’s where we all started. I remember rehearsing for shows and people would peek through the windows and crowd around outside. It was like a free concert with all of my brothers and I performing inside.”

The rehearsals helmed by Joseph were endlessly intense, often times starting right when the boys got out of school through well past a typical student’s bedtime. Though the group slogged it out on the local nightclub scene as mere teenagers throughout the mid-60s, the rocket ride of fame was thankfully right around the corner.

“I remember one day I was in my bed staring at the ceiling and saying ‘I can’t wait to be on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ and then a month later we were on his show,” reminiscences Jackie. “It was just like that and timing really is everything. It was just like a bunch of kids just fulfilling their dreams. We loved music dearly and it wasn’t about the money. We just loved entertaining and performing and just having a great time off stage. We learned everything from that little house in Gary, Indiana, then once we got to Motown, they helped take it to another level.”

From then through today, The Jackson 5 and The Jacksons (a slight moniker shift required when the brothers began recording for CBS Records in 1976) have collectively sold over 100 million albums, making them one of the most successful acts in history, regardless of genre. Of course, Michael’s solo star rose even further and continues to burn brightly thanks to a series of posthumous releases and activities, which Jackie just so happens to oversee as part of his ongoing estate consulting.

“The estate is doing a very good job. They’ve released a new Pepsi ‘King of Pop’ campaign on Michael that’s all over the news right now,” he exclaims. “We’re part of things like that and I help out in any way I can with his charity, interacting with fans and just trying to keep his name in a great light. His kids are doing wonderful. They show up at a lot of the [Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour] Cirque du Soleil shows and do interviews as well.”

While all of those projects and The Unity Tour have given The Jacksons plenty of reasons to smile, not a moment goes by when they don’t miss MJ, who they simply refer to as a beloved brother. It’s a sentiment that finds Jackie choking back tears as he quietly thanks longtime listeners for their support.

“Like any family in America, there are ups and downs, but we’ve been able to hold it together,” he sums up. “We’ve been through a lot since the death of my brother. Our fans are number one. They’ve stood by us; they’ve been so supportive and so kind. We owe it to them, we really do.”

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