If you're a fan of Michael Jackson, you don't need to know anything more than what's in the music. The "whoo-hoo!" that announces his arrival on 1979's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." The slinky bassline prowling through "Billie Jean." The tender sigh he could put on for a ballad like "You Are Not Alone." .
But somewhere underneath that collision of figures that is his career - 12 No. 1 records, 51 million copies sold of Thriller, 80 million copies of the others, 13 Grammy Awards - there's a man, and one whose achievements are far greater than mere numbers. His '80s success opened up white America to black music in a way not seen since his predecessor Little Richard banged out "Tutti Frutti" in 1956. Without Jackson there is no Prince. No Whitney Houston. No Lenny Kravitz. And the world is a lesser place. .
Michael Joe Jackson was born on August 29, 1958, in Gary, Ind. His middle name was his father's. At 5 he became the vehicle for steelworker Joe's dreams when mother Kate found him practicing dance steps in front of a mirror. Michael and brother Marlon joined a trio of older siblings as the Jackson 5 in 1963 and began playing local clubs. .
From the get-go it was obvious Michael was the star. When Gladys Knight recommended the Jacksons to Berry Gordy and they became Motown's newest hit-making machine in the early '70s, it was Michael's precocious wail that electrified the No. 1's "I Want You Back," "ABC," and "I'll Be There." And though Randy, Tito, and Jermaine may be talented, they were never anyone's favorite Jackson. .
Michael is pop's last great entertainer. He's so focused on performance and applause, he skirted a true childhood because it interfered with professionalism. The need to please made him a candidate for solo stardom, and he enjoyed his first personal No. 1 in 1972 with "Ben," the title track of a film about a boy and his rat. Noted lyricist Don Black, "He enjoys anything that crawls or flies.