In March 1983, Suzanne dePasse, who was instrumental with the success of the Jackson 5, began work on a T.V. special. One that would celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Motown. It would be called, "Motown 25 -Yesterday,Today,and Forever." DePasse was president of Motown Productions and had become Berry Gordy's right hand woman. It was time to pay tribute to the man who gave so many of the Motown artists their beginnings, though many left the label under strained circumstances.
De Passe had a hard time finding artists who would commit to the project. She wanted to reunite Diana Ross and the Supremes, thirteen years after their split. But Diana Ross, now a R.C.A. recording artist, held deep resentment and anger towards Berry Gordy and Motown . She did not want to participate, therefore the Supremes segment of the show was in trouble. Focus was then placed on reuniting the Jackson 5 including Jermaine.
All of the brothers agreed to the reunion, except Michael.
Michael did not want to appear on television. With music videos, he could control the visual product. The performance could be perfected by multiple takes until HE was satisfied. Performing live in front of a studio audience was, at best, risky.
Also, the idea of performing with his brothers was not all that appealing. He had worked hard to distance himself from them emotionally, and professionally. Though he never made a formal announcement that he left the group, he no longer wanted to be thought of as one of the Jackson 5.
Let's not forget how he felt about Berry Gordy. He still felt that Gordy exploited the group, and the drama with Jermaine, having to choose between the group and Motown.
The refusal of the artists not wanting to pay tribute did not seem to phase Berry Gordy. Even Marvin Gaye, his former brother-in-law, would not attend. "The hell with 'em all," Berry said. "It's going to be a great special anyway."
"Oh yeah," Suzanne dePassse argued. "Without Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, what kind of special do we have? We got DeBarge and High Inergy. You've got to talk to these people into appearing."
So Berry telephoned Diana Ross and said that if she had a speck of gratitude for all that he had done for her, she should appear on the special . She reluctantly agreed, as did Marvin Gaye
One night, while Michael was remixing "Billie Jean" in a Motown recording studio he rented for the session, Berry cornered him. Michael was taken aback.
Berry asked Michael directly why he would not appear on the program. Michael said he did not like performing on television. Berry then started talking about the "old times," and all that he did for him and the brothers. Michael then said that if he was to be exploited by Motown, he was going to get some benefit from it.
"Listen, if I do this thing, I want to have a solo spot," he warned Gordy.
"Hey, man, that's cool," Berry said eagerly. "I want you to have one too."
Gordy though Michael was going to sing one of the Motown solo he had recorded over the years, but Michael shook his head.
I want to do 'Billie Jean,' he said very firmly.
Berry felt that this was out of the question because this is a Motown special, and since Michael was with CBS, "Billie Jean" would be out of place.
Michael told Berry that if he couldn't do "Billie Jean," he would not appear on the show.
"I don't know about 'Billie Jean,' " Berry said. "It doesn't seem right to me."
"Well, then Berry, I'm sorry..."
After a bit of silence and staring at one another, Berry finally relented, "Okay, it's 'Billie Jean' "
One reason why Michael wanted to do 'Billie Jean," was of course to promote the song. But he also wanted to show that there was growth musically from the brothers since they left Motown. Also, he wanted to show Motown that the group had not made a mistake when they left the company.
After rehearsals with his brothers, the show was ready to be taped on March 25,1983. Michael asked someone from his manager's office to find a black fedora for him. He would wear that, a black sequined jacket, and "The Glove." The cotton glove, hand-sewn with twelve hundred rhinestones, became Michael's trademark after Motown 25.
The night before the taping, Michael created the choreography to "Billie Jean" alone in the kitchen of his Encino home. This to me is amazing, because this performance looks like it was something honed to perfection over time, not in just one evening. This is the genius of Michael Jackson. The performance was, perhaps, a seminal moment in entertainment history. The torch was passed from dancers like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, to Michael that night.
Oddly, Michael was unhappy with his performance. Because he didn't hold the stand on his toes long enough, for him, he felt," It wasn't such a hot performance."
His brothers, however, took Michael's glory, and turned it into an opportunity for themselves, saying that this can put them back on the road, and make more money for them than ever before.
As Michael left his brothers in their dreams, Michael, while walking down the hallway, was called by a young boy. Michael stopped.
"Man, who ever taught you how to dance like that?"
"Practice, I guess," Michael said.
"You were amazing," the boy told him.
"Thanks, I needed that, " Michael responded.
Now he felt good.
But, it was going to get better. The day after the special aired, Fred Astaire telephoned his long time choreographer, Hermes Pan, and said, "You've got to come over right away. You've got to see something."
When Pan arrived, Astaire put in a videotape of the performance. "Just wait till you see this," The two pros watched Michael in awe.
"Isn't he great?" Astaire said. He was never one to praise other male dancers, but this was an exception.
Pan and Astaire called Michael, and Astaire told him that ' he was a hell of a dancer. A great mover. You really put them on their asses last night, You're an angry dancer, I'm the same way.'
Michael' voice teacher, Seth Riggs said "Michael was eating breakfast when Astaire called, and he got so excited he actually got sick and couldn't finish his meal." Later, Michael, after becoming friends with Astaire, went to his house to teach Astaire and Pan how to do the moonwalk.
Soon after, Gene Kelly, visited Michael, and said, "He knows when to stop and then flash out like a bolt of lightning." Bob Fosse said, "He's clean, neat, fast, with a sensuality that comes through. It's never the steps that are important, It's the style."
Michael joined the brotherhood of great dancers.
Thank you J. Randy Taraborelli "Michael Jackson -The Magic and the Madness" pages 285-295.