Music professor shares thoughts on King of Pop

Saturday, June 27, 2009 | 10:37 a.m. CDT; updated 2:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, June 27, 2009

COLUMBIA — In 100 years, Michael Jackson’s hits will be as fresh as they were in the limelight of the 1980s.

That's the belief of MU professor Michael Budds, who said Jackson's combination of charisma, talent and appeal will keep him near the forefront of pop artist fandom for the next century.

“First of all, he was a very talented man, no question about that,” said Budds, who teaches a class focused on the history of jazz, pop and rock. "(But) he was also a very troubled man. It’s perfectly possible to separate the two things.”

Jackson, 50, who died Thursday, began his music career as a boy with The Jackson 5 in the 1960s. His last album, “Invincible,” was released in October 2001.

The controversy surrounding Jackson’s personal life, from allegations of child molestation to his altered physical appearance and prescription drug abuse, will “lose their sensationalism,” Budds said. “(His) artistic accomplishment will be what’s important.”

Jackson was scheduled to perform in London next month to kick off a comeback tour, but in the midst of his death, his albums skyrocketed online to fill’s Top 10 music best-selling list Saturday.

“His life after death will be as interesting and sorted as his life on earth,” said Budds, who predicts Jackson will have the fame of past cultural icons like the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

As a music historian, Budds uses the context of an artist’s work to analyze how the musician capitalizes on the era’s cultural factors.

“(The) universal appeal has something of course to do with him,” Budds said, “but also with the time that he came about.”

The arrival of The Jackson 5 under Motown Records during the height of the Civil Rights movement helped Jackson achieve popularity in not only African-American roots, but mainstream music, through the style’s crossover between rhythm and blues and pop genres.

Budds read in a Friday interview an excerpt from Jackson’s autobiography “Moonwalk,” which encapsulated the 14-year-old’s escape from Motown’s formalistic style.

“They wanted me to sing a certain way, and I knew they were wrong. No matter what age you are, if you have it and you know it, then people should listen to you,” Jackson wrote.

It was then in 1972, that Jackson “became truer to the African-American style of music,” Budds said, and began his road to international fame.

Despite the artist’s stardom in the 1980s with “Thriller,”  “Billie Jean,” and “Beat it,” the MU professor most vividly recalls Jackson as the prodigal young boy with beautiful chocolate skin and an Afro halo, who sang in a sweet soprano about love and other topics he had yet to learn anything about.

Budds said Jackson had an attribute throughout his entire adulthood that spurred his creativity, global notoriety and ability to break ethnic, generational and musical barriers.

“There’s something childlike about him,” Budds said.


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