When we talk about self-made men/ women we talk about people who have found their own voice through tenacity mixed with hard work and patience. One person that we cannot exclude from this category is none other than the “King of Pop” himself, Mr. Michael Jackson.
Jackson built his iconic empire through his own talent as well as through careful choices in his music that made him explode onto the scene in the 80s. However Jackson had a rough start to success, which begins this story like so many other self-made men before him.
Like Benjamin Franklin, Jackson grew up into a large family in a poor area of Gary, Indiana. As one of 10 children, Jackson struggled to find an outlet of his own. However his brothers under the direction of their father Joe Jackson formed the Jackson 5 which began to showcase Michael’s talents as a singer at a very young age.
Similarly to Franklin, Jackson was in some ways an indentured slave. Franklin’s journey started out as an indentured slave to his brother where he would receive, “harsh and tyrannical treatment” working in his brother’s printing press (1). His brother would beat him at times creating an abusive environment in which Franklin had to escape. Similarly Jackson, under the direction of his father, lived in fear of Joe Jackson’s wrath and worked as hard as he could to avoid abuse. Jackson knew that if he wanted to be successful he had to get away from his family and make use of his talents to reach stardom.
Henry Clay who coined the term “self-made man” describes these people as “enterprising men who give whatever wealth they possess by being patient and diligent” (2). In many ways Jackson understood this definition as he recognized the wealth and success he had within the Jackson 5, yet risked it all anyway to have a solo career.
Jackson went on to have records such as Off the Wall in 1979 that gained some following. However, the turning point for Jackson in his journey happened once he teamed up with Quincy Jones. Together Jackson and Jones produced the highest selling album of all time in Thriller soon changing Michael’s status from celebrity to icon.
In some ways Jackson’s album was the smartest capitalistic move of his career. Every song on that album was meticulously thought out and meant to be a sound for virtually everyone to “get down” with. He even got Paul McCartney, one the largest white music legends, to sing a duet with him on Thriller. Jackson’s album exploded as top hit after top hit was played on the radio showing that a black voice could be iconic.
Benjamin Franklin in similar fashion understood the concept of appealing to a mass audience as well with his newspaper the Pennsylvania Gazette. In David Waldstreicher’s book Runaway America, Waldstreicher describes how Franklin succeeded with his newspaper because, “it spread crucial information between participants in translocal markets” appealing to many people across different boundaries (3). This is the job of the self-made man, and Jackson and Franklin understood this very well and capitalized on it.
Jackson’s celebrity and presence grew beyond anything he could of imagined paving the way for other artists such as Usher and Justin Timberlake to make similarly inspired music and social presences. In similar ways Benjamin Franklin did the same as both came into the spotlight through persistence and hard work. Both deserve the title as self-made men, but most of all both are icons that forged new paths for others to follow.
- Waldstreicher, David. pg 3-4. Runaway America. New York: Hill and Wang. Print.
- Swansburg, John. pg 6 “The Self-Made Man The Story of America’s Most Pliable, Pernacious, Irrpressible Myth” Print.
- Waldstreicher, David. Pg 23-24 Runaway America. New York: Hill and Wang. Print.