For all the millions in the world who watched yesterday’s farewell memorial service for pop star Michael Jackson, and especially those present in the packed Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, not shedding a tear or two for this truly musical genius would have definitely been out of place. The star studded extravaganza, lasting more than two hours, continued to build up momentum each time a music artist sang one of Michael’s songs, or a memorial testimonial was given. The mood seemed to grow more poignant, even though the 20,000 people in attendance (including more than 17,500 who received tickets via the internet) were remarkably well behaved; which added significantly to the tribute being given to Jackson.
Following an introductory eulogy by Pastor Luther Smith, a long time friend of the Jackson family, recording artist Mariah Carey sang Jackson’s “I’ll Be There”; Lionel Richie followed with “Jesus is Love”; an emotionally wrought Usher sang “Gone Too Soon”; John Mayer did an instrumental version of “Human Nature”; and Stevie Wonder sang “I never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” as a personal tribute to a fellow “brother” and artist. “This is a moment that I wish I hadn’t lived to see” Wonder said, trying to hold back his tears. Jennifer Hudson, a former American Idol winner and one whom Jackson had personally admired, also sang one of Jackson’s former hits.
Many of the personal tributes given were as moving as the musical renditions, especially those by Brooke Shields, who had known Jackson since age 13 and said she and Jackson “formed an immediate bond as we both understood what it meant to achieve stardom at a very young age. We were considered by many as an ‘unordinary pair’, but we knew we could depend on each other”. She went on to call Michael Jackson “the sweetest and purest person I have ever known”.
But perhaps the greatest tribute, from a professional standpoint, came from Gary Gordy, whose Crown Record Company helped propel the Jackson Five singing group and Michael Jackson individually to stardom. Gordy said: “not only was Michael Jackson the undisputed King of Pop; he was much more than that â€“ he was the greatest entertainer who ever lived!”
Of course there were other tributes, including those by basketball greats Kobi Bryant and Magic Johnson (who said he was most impressed when he shared a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken with the pop star); the Reverend Al Sharpton, and both of Martin Luther King’s children Eunice King and Martin Luther King III, who said that “you have be the best at what you are, and that’s what Michal was”.
Congressperson Sheila Jackson Lee, from the Houston Texas Congressional District, pointed out Jackson’s many good deeds, including his many charities (“he may go down in the Guinness Book of Records for the number of charities he was actively involved in”) and when he visited wounded US servicemen at Walter Reed Hospital, outside Washington D.C. “When he died on June 25th, we all stood in a moment of silence for the passing of a great American icon. Michael Jackson, I salute you!”
Other musical renditions were given in Jackson’s honor, including those by Motown great Smokey Robinson (of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) who wrote a number of songs that Jackson later turned into hits. But perhaps the most musical surprise of the evening came from 12-year-old Shaheen Jafargholi, of Swansea Wales in the U.K, with an excellent rendition of Jackson’s “Who’s Lovin’ You.” The young singer had been picked by Jackson to appear in his “This is It” concert tour, which would have begun in London in a few days.
Jackson’s own family rounded out the celebrity and star-studded morning with his brother Jermaine Jackson singing a wonderful version of the Charley Chaplin song “Smile” which Michael made famous as young child. And Marlon Jackson, choked with emotion, said of his departed brother: “we will never understand what he had to endure. Maybe now, people will leave him alone”.
As a final musical tribute, everyone who participated came on stage for the finale musical number “We Are the World”, which Jackson made famous as a song of love and hope for all the world’s children.
What brought down the house, emotion-wise, however, came from his 11 year old daughter, Paris Katherine, who sobbed: “Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine â€“ and I just want to say I love him so much!”
As his bronze and gold plated coffin was wheeled out, voices from the audience cried “Michael, Michael” in one last tribute as the dead King of Pop left for his final journey to his eternal resting place. And as it was with another King, Elvis Presley, only history will conclude how great Michael Jackson really was.