What I Know About Jermaine Jackson- A Michael Jackson Fan Perspective


As a key member of the Jackson 5, Jermaine was the heartthrob with a mature and soulful sound likened to Marvin Gaye. He has been the sibling that has most often and most consistently come to Michael's defense in the press. He is Michael's older brother, the second lead vocal of the group, and one of Michael's most recognizable "soldiers of love".

Yet, Jermaine Jackson has been so often overlooked and misunderstood in the Michael Jackson fan community.

I’ve been attending events and meeting Michael Jackson fans for over 15 years. I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard fans (including ones within my circle of friends) share negative sentiments about Jermaine. Growing up I had a great deal of admiration for the entire family.
But why didn’t anyone see or hear what I did? 

Why are people so set on believing what they want to when it comes to Michael’s family (especially Jermaine)?

The past few weeks, I sat down to take a closer look. Listening to hours of Jackson 5 music, watching interviews and reading both the words of both brothers. And now I’m ready to share all that I’ve discovered and come to realize.

This is What I Know About Jermaine Jackson- A Michael Jackson Fan Perspective.

Got to Be There-  The Brotherhood & the Musical Rivalry

"Well, you don't get to do things that other children get to do, having friends and slumber parties and buddies. There were none of that for me. I didn't have friends when I was little. My brothers were my friends." 
– Michael Jackson

Each of the Jacksons have shared how tight their brotherhood was during the Motown years. They rehearsed together, toured together, and even before that- they shared space, sleeping in a 3-level bunk-bed in their bedroom in Gary. Jermaine Jackson called it their first “dressing room”.

In “You Are Not Alone, Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes,” Jermaine’s book, released in 2011, he shares that he and Michael had a very close bond in the early years. They often shared a room together, with their father Joseph in the next adjoining one. He wanted to keep an eye (or an ear) out for his two lead singers.

“Michael and I seemed to spend all our down-time together in those days and the bond between us was sealed tight. I cannot remember an argument or a fight in our childhood… Michael looked up to me, I looked out for him. Onstage, he was always to my right. In hotels, he was always in the bed to the left. If I couldn’t see Michael, and know he was okay, I didn’t feel at ease”.

I can relate. My younger sister and I didn’t always see eye to eye as kids but still-  I’ve never felt comfortable with her facing a difficult or stressful situation. Whether she knew it or not, whether the people around us knew it or not, I always tried to make decisions that I thought were in her best interest. Decisions that I thought, would keep her protected. It’s just something that’s in your nature as an older sibling.

So, when did the rivalry between Michael and Jermaine start?

Well, it probably started with Motown.
The Jackson 5 were brothers and family first.
Family can get complicated. But, the record label just as much as the public, were crafting a rivalry between the brothers that would last, starting with their first solo albums.

Michael Jackson-     Got To Be There           January 24, 1972
Jermaine Jackson-  Jermaine                        July 14, 1972
Michael Jackson-     Ben                                January 4, 1972
Michael Jackson-    Music & Me                   April 13, 1973
Jermaine Jackson-  Come Into My Life        May 6, 1973
Michael Jackson-     Forever, Michael          January 16, 1975

The solo projects for Michael and Jermaine were created to contribute to and strengthen the Jackson 5 brand. However, the press was quick to create a rivalry, asking each of them during interviews how it felt to compete on the music charts. I’ve seen a 1972 interview clip (here) where a news reporter asked Michael about when he was planning to leave the group and start a solo career. But what the media presented as a rivalry between artists, was likely no more than healthy competition between brothers. 

At least during the Motown years.

Music & Me- The Chemistry

Before either Michael or Jermaine had solo projects, the Jackson 5 made history as the first recording act to score 4 consecutive hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 chart:

“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There,” were all songs that wouldn’t be the same without the vocal contributions of both Michael and Jermaine Jackson. 

What has often been referred to as a “call and response” duet, the chemistry that Michael and Jermaine had on Jackson 5 songs was undeniable.

My personal favorites from the group have always been “Maybe Tomorrow,” and “Forever Came Today.” Although they didn’t share equal duties on the songs, Michael and Jermaine’s synergy, much like on the group’s first 4 singles, proved to be something unique.  

Jermaine’s voice brought a mature sound to the Jackson 5 and even Michael knew how important of a role his older brother played. The Corporation were a group of songwriters developed by Berry Gordy to write songs especially for the Jackson 5 when they were signed to Motown in 1969. Michael recalls those songs in his book, Moonwalk.

“’I Want You Back’ could have been sung by a grown-up, but ‘ABC’ and ‘The Love You Save’ were written for our young voices, with parts for Jermaine as well as me… Our verses were tongue twisting- that’s why they were split up between Jermaine and me”.


My Name Is Jermaine- The Vocalist

Michael Jackson always gave credit to those he admired and considered to be one of "the greats". From James Brown to Fred Astaire, to Jackie Wilson and Sammy Davis Jr., he often spoke highly of those he drew inspiration from… including Jermaine.

“Growing up, it was Jermaine I focused on. He’d walk me to school. I’d get his hand-me-down clothes. It was his voice that I first imitated. I loved his sound. He showed me the way.”
- Michael Jackson, in an interview with music historian David Ritz (1970s)

Jermaine Jackson was a great vocalist, having solo spots at Jackson 5 shows and later on the Victory Tour and Unity Tour (my reviews are here and here). But did you know that he was main vocal on several Jackson 5 songs too?

On the ABC album’s “I Think I Found That Girl” Jermaine takes the lead. This song, the B-Side of “The Love You Save,” was a hearty ballad that showed why Jermaine was once, the original lead singer of the group.

If you listen closely, you can hear Michael clearly singing background. 
When Michael's voice was changing through his teenage years, he would find new ways to sing or the band would change the key to adjust to him. That time would also coincide with the release of one of Jermaine's better-known songs, “Daddy's Home” in 1972.

The following year, the Jackson 5 released their 9th album, In Japan! which would feature a live version of the song.

On a personal note, this album is cool to me because Michael was always the one who inspired me to study Japanese and because it was the first time I'd ever heard Michael Jackson as a background singer. Take a listen to Michael singing background and Jermaine singing the lead on this fun, live rendition of “Daddy’s Home”.

Feel the Fire -The Jackson 5 exit; Jermaine decides to stay at Motown

By the mid-seventies, the Jacksons started to feel like they had overstayed their welcome at Motown. As reported by The New Yorker in 1975, the move was mostly fueled by a desire for creative freedom. Although they stayed at Motown until the end of their contract in March 1976, they announced their decision during the summer of 1975.

“We left Motown because we look forward to selling a lot of albums… Motown sells a lot of singles, Epic sells a lot of albums”
- Tito Jackson, 1975

Jermaine was wed to Hazel Gordy, at a lavish ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1973. After marrying the daughter of Mr. Gordy (Motown’s founder, who had signed the group and given them their start)- it is no surprise that he felt a loyalty there. (Although, Jermaine later revealed on the show "Jacksons" A Family Dynasty," in that his wanting to stay at Motown was more related to the way his brothers' decision was presented to him and the loyalty he felt to the label.)

At the time of the article’s publishing, simply entitled “Leaving Motown,” by George S.W. Trow and Jamaica Kincaid, the Jacksons were unsure of whether 21-year-old Jermaine was going to join them in moving to Epic.

When asked about the subject, Joseph Jackson, father and manager of the group said that he was confident Jermaine would eventually join them, “Under his conditions, it’ll take a while”.

Jermaine Jackson decided to stay at Motown..

Frontiers-  Jermaine Chooses His Own Path

Ending the Jackson 5 era and ushering in the Jacksons, Randy replaced the spot Jermaine left vacant.

Jermaine has said that the weeks of separation after the J5's departure from Motown were some of the most difficult in his life.  

“The sense of detachment and loneliness was profound. I didn’t feel like I had lost my right arm; I felt like I had lost every limb. I had Hazel [Gordy], of course, but the brotherhood was intrinsic to who I was and everything I knew. When it was ripped away, I felt something tear”.

From facing accusations of betrayal from Joseph, to dealing with Jackson 5 fans who blamed Jermaine for breaking up the group, Hazel Gordy recalled Jermaine’s sadness as a depression that no one could coax him out of.  

Michael also talks about the first shows they did without Jermaine in his autobiography, Moonwalk:

“I clearly remember the first show we did without him, because it was so painful for me. Since my earliest days on the stage- and even in our rehearsals in our Gary living room- Jermaine stood at my left with his bass. I depended on being next to Jermaine”. 

From the beginning, Michael and Jermaine always stood side by side.

After spending a countless nunber of hours watching Jackson 5 footage, documentaries, and performances, I understand Michael’s sentiment. So many of their earliest hit records featured Michael and Jermaine’s tag-team interaction.

On almost every performance I’ve seen, including the time I saw the Jacksons perform live together in 2001, Michael almost always glanced quickly to his left. Even when he wasn’t making direct eye contact with Jermaine, he would always see him there.  Both Tito and Jermaine were like the outposts, standing (mostly) still and on the outside perimeter of the group. Without Michael’s left-hand man, things just weren’t the same.

If you’ve ever watched the Jacksons: American Dream movie, you might remember the scenes of Randy first joining the Jacksons before performing “Never Can Say Goodbye”. The outfits were very reminiscent of the colorful suits with sparkling lapels that the brothers wore during the Moving Violation era. Jermaine walks along the beach, somewhere on the West Coast as the sun sets around him. The Jacksons are performing in the dark, at a seemingly outdoor venue. This part of the movie suggests that they are in the East Coast and that Jermaine remained across the country.

Remember the dialogue when Michael kept insisting to Joseph that he just KNEW Jermaine would show up?

He did.

Jermaine  flew out to Westbury Music Fair in Long Island, New York to join his brothers. His trip there was in response to a request from Michael, who had phoned in secret to Berry Gordy.

The conversation between Jermaine and Michael that night, was one that would end in tears for both brothers.

“[Michael] said he couldn’t imagine continuing onstage without me. I said I couldn’t imagine being at Motown without my brothers… We slowly arrived at acceptance, not quite understanding how we’d reached this end-game”.  Jermaine also talked about the guilt that he felt for his decision. Even his trip there that night, in which he intended to reconnect and show support, had misled everyone that he’d changed his mind.

After confronting his father, feeling the disappointment from his brothers and seeing the unbearable look of sadness on Michael’s face, Jermaine painted a clear picture of his family all walking away from him that night... in  "a bubble that no longer surrounded [him]”.

Let’s Get Serious - The Separation

After having been a performer for over a decade and in his own words, "a veteran before the age of thirteen," we all know Michael Jackson lived an extraordinary life. To a certain point, all of the Jackson 5 did too- rehearsing, recording, touring; these were experiences the brothers shared together.

But after the release of Michael’s first solo album at Epic, Off the Wall, and the tremendous success of Thriller and the subsequent Victory Tour, Michael's career had hit the stratosphere.
He had accomplished things no one had before. One of my favorite quotes about Michael Jackson from Rolling Stone magazine describes it best:

"No single artist - indeed, no movement or force - has eclipsed what Michael Jackson accomplished in the first years of his solo adult career. Jackson changed the balance of the pop world in a way that nobody has since. He forced Rock & Roll and the mainstream press to acknowledge that the biggest pop star in the world could be young and black, and in doing that he broke down more barriers than anybody." 
- Rolling Stone

But after Michael’s years of success as a solo artist, he separated himself from the family. I’m sure Michael had his own reasons- which I won't speculate about. I also have no doubt that Michael's team probably contributed to building a wall around him too. According to Jermaine, over an 8 year period of time, the family would only see Michael a few times each year.

After repeated calls that went unanswered and letters sent without response, Jermaine made a song that would shock radio airwaves, playing back to back on some stations with Michael’s new single from the Dangerous album. This would become the call that rang loud enough to reach his brother.

(You Said) Word to The Badd

It's been said that there are more than several sides to every story.

In 1991, the song “Word to The Badd” sent a frenzy across radio airwaves.

Been abducted
Don't know who you are
Think they love you
They don't know you
Lonely superstar . . . "

According to the first-hand accounts of both record executives Clive Davis and LA Reid, "Word to the Badd" was a heated and public response to Michael Jackson's attempt at stopping Jermaine's solo career.

To be honest, one of the things I've always admired about Michael has been his competitive nature. I suppose it was without limit.

Jermaine recalls visiting Michael after he'd been admitted to the hospital for chest pains. The always protective big brother, Jermaine went to visit Michael and shared his excitement about working with LA Reid and Babyface. He alluded to the possibility of them being his "Quincy Jones". Michael laughed and gave Jermaine some advice, just make sure you write your own melodies.

What happened next, was something that Jermaine recalls being a frustrating and confusing time. His writing team had suddenly disappeared. He was pumped up and excited to start working on his new album and suddenly communication had stopped.

Michael Jackson had arranged for the duo, LA Reid and Babyface, to fly out to Los Angeles for three weeks and write for him.

In his book, "Sing to Me," Reid shares that when Jermaine found out about it, he wanted to be released from LaFace Records.


"When Reid told Michael what happened, the superstar replied, 'He’ll get over it.'
‘That’s not really the problem,’ I said. ‘The problem was that he wants off the label now.’
‘Did he sign a contract?’ asked Michael.
‘Yes,’ I said.
‘Then he’ll have to live with it because those are the rules,’ Michael said and walked out."

And then “Word to the Badd” was born. 
LA Reid claims that Jermaine wrote it. 
Jermaine said that LaFace wrote it.  Jermaine was admittedly angry and recorded it.... yes... 
But, it was never meant to be heard publicly. 

Jermaine has said that it was leaked by an unknown source.

Radios played the song back to back with the not-yet-released, “Black or White,” from Michael’s highly anticipated Dangerous album.

Jermaine spoke to the LA Times in November 1991 about the controversial song.

"You see, I love my brother very much,” he said.  

“My relationship with my brother is more important than money. It's more important than a No. 1 record. The most important thing is that we maintain being brothers and hopefully this song will help improve our relationship. I'm not happy that the song has been made public, but what can I do about it now?" 
– Jermaine Jackson, 1991

The song was taken off the radio within days and to my knowledge, Michael Jackson never made a statement about it publicly. (Sony Music’s spokesperson seems to have been the only one from Michael’s team to address the song, calling it a “malicious publicity stunt”).

The song did however, lead to an in-person meeting for the brothers, as Jermaine had hoped for.
In his book, Jermaine shares his account of what happened that day. He tried to explain to Michael how many times he’d reached out to him. Michael claimed to not gotten any of his messages, letters, or calls.

After heated words back and forth, the conversation finally broke out in laughter when Michael made a joke, poking fun at the seriousness of his brother. The situation couldn’t have stayed tense for too long. Michael and Jermaine “wrapped up the big talk by mutually accepting fault. We both stood, gave each other the biggest hug and said, ‘I love you,’ almost in unison.”

I will share with you one of the most touching (and I believe most real) statements that Jermaine has ever made about the song.

“To this day, some of Michael's fans hold ‘Word to the Badd’ against me in a way that he did not but, ultimately what mattered was forgiveness between brothers… The truth was that our difficulties were no bigger or smaller than any other family’s, but they became magnified by my actions and Michael’s’ fame. Thankfully, we’ve always been able to put matters into perspective and move on. It takes a lot more than a few ill-considered lyrics to break the ties of kinship between us.”
 – Jermaine Jackson.

"Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin' (Too Good to Be True)" - My Rediscovery and Meeting Jermaine

There was a time that I listened to ONLY Michael Jackson and the Jacksons music. It was right after I saw them in concert (read about that here), shortly after 9/11.  

I had sort of made the Jacksons my life. 

My dad, who's been my biggest influence when it comes to my musical taste, always used to tell me to be open to listening to other artists. There was an entire world out there and if I was a true fan of music, I was selling myself short by listening to only Michael, the Jacksons, or Jackson 5 albums.

He was right. 
By only limiting myself, I wasn't able to fully appreciate what I was experiencing when I listened to Michael. But, as a fan himself, he knew I wouldn't be very open to the idea of exploring another artist in depth.                                       

His solution?

Start with Jermaine.

One of the ways he convinced me to listen to other music was by introducing me to a Jermaine Jackson solo album. I listened to songs like "Dynamite" and "Do What You Do" - *sidenote: love this track!* but, another song that I fell in love with was "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin' (Too Good To Be True)".

I'm mentioning it here because it’s a duet with Michael and one of my favorites from this era. My father went to see the Victory Tour and talked about how exciting it was for him to see them perform the song live.

This, like many of the earlier Jackson 5 songs, showcases the chemistry of the incredible duet that is Jermaine and Michael Jackson. If you listen to even some of the first hit Jackson 5 records, songs like  "ABC" and "The Love You Save" are great examples of what a great team they made. Getting into the later years of the Jackson 5 career, songs like "I Am Love" (both parts) are examples of how well Michael and Jermaine's voices work well together on a record. Perfect balance.

Oh and did I forget to mention the stage performance can be seen online?. I could go on and on forever about this but, I'll let you see it for yourself - "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin'" Live

(And don't cheat and skip to Michael's part- the buildup is important.)

After Michael Jackson’s untimely passing, his brother Jermaine wrote a book on Michael’s life and who Michael was from his perspective. The book was called “You Are Not Alone. Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes” and I’ve referenced it numerous times throughout this article.

I was fortunate enough to attend a signing event and meet Jermaine Jackson later that year in New Jersey. It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. To be honest, I was nervous as we stood in that line. I practiced what I wanted to say to him  over and over. 

How could I explain what I felt about his brother Michael? Or should I talk about how he and his family impacted me? What if he isn’t nice?

He wore dark aviator sunglasses throughout the entire event. It made me even more nervous, not being able to see his eyes.

When I got up to him, he smiled at me. I don’t even remember what I said but, at that moment I felt special. The Jacksons have a way of making you feel like that, even without saying anything.

He signed my book and took this photo, as we both smiled cheek to cheek. (Sidenote: Check the Jackson 5 shirt that I made myself... you guys KNOW I love Jacksons/MJ Graphic tees!)

I wrote this post because I’m grateful for the musical contributions and sacrifice that the Jacksons made as a family. The Jackson 5 made music that I truly feel sustained me through some of the darkest times of my life. 

I believe that Jermaine Jackson was much more than the bass player for the Jackson 5, the “background singer” for Michael, or the person that the press has made him out to be. He is an incredible talent and seems to have been a pillar of strength for the Jackson family.

Jermaine's relationship with Michael was playful, loving, competitive, and at times strained but, it was a real relationship between brothers...

and as a Michael Jackson fan, I have no choice but to respect that.

Do you have a favorite Jermaine Jackson performance or song?
What's your favorite Jackson 5 song?

I would love to hear all about it in the comments.

Until next time...

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi Isha,

    I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of years ago, perhaps it was in 2007 when he appeared on the Australian version of Aus Idol. I have a friend who worked on the show who offered me the chance to come to set - he was given the duty of showing him around etc. I was vaguely interested and perhaps if I'd taken my friend up on the offer, I would have a different opinion today.

    I was the MJ fan who got very indignant about Word To The Badd and feel like his version of events may be kind of far from the truth -- but I guess upon reflection, we'll never know. Also, (after rewriting this comment, because your post made me reconsider my feelings) I'm in my mid 30s now, I'm not a 15 yr old highly emotional fan who can't see that maybe Michael did some shitty things too -- that's what happens in families I suppose and when you put someone's family under a microscope, people are going to do things that don't seem totally perfect all of the time lol.

    All those things I believe are kind of shitty, but I can respect that it is what it is between two brothers and that despite it all, he loves/d Michael within whatever capacity he knows/ew how. What I disliked about Jermaine mostly is about his situation with his children, if the stories of spousal abuse and not paying child support are true, then I feel like that ruins his integrity and makes me lose any respect for him... Not my business, but those are the kind of things I measure men upon at this stage of my life.

    In terms of his musicianship, I can appreciate how large of a part he played in the J5 and in The Jacksons later on but apart from when I was a kid and felt like part of being a Michael fan was having to like every single thing he liked/was associated with, I've never felt an affection toward his music/vocals. Its not to say I hated them and they grate me like I might feel about ... I don't know, Adele, let's say. I don't have a great big hateful opinion about them (surprising, given that I'm me hahaha, kidding). I've just listened to his vocals as though they've been there -- I grew up with the J5 like you did, I guess so it'd be weird to not have them where they are naturally meant to be.

    What I DO appreciate and like about Jermaine is that he has always gone to a great degree to defend his brother's name and his memory. He will call out people who have been cruel or rude or lie about MJs status. While the rest of the family were talking about these alleged interventions (that when asked, turns out no one turned up to???), Jermaine was the one insisting that his brother was not a drug addict (and toxology report then backed up that he did not die of a drug overdose nor did he have addictive drugs in his system at TOD). I love that kind of loyalty toward Michael and both he and LaToya (the two most hated fam members) have been the only ones to stand up for him in that regard -- the two most hated, but probably the two that were most close with him....

    I find it sad that Michael was so far removed from his family in the end -- perhaps if he wasn't then things might have turned out differently, but I always stop to remind myself that despite the fact that it was painted out as if calls never got thru or letters couldn't break the barrier of Michael's camp, there was a reason why Michael never reached out first.

    All in all, I did love this post! Hope I don't sound like an asshole lol.


thanks for commenting, #MJfam! xx

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