Interviewed and written by Elder Lee M Harris, Sr.
It is very important that we as human beings understand that God has placed every living soul on this earth with a mission and a purpose. Some may feel that someone else’s or even their own reasons for being here are much greater or smaller than another. We sometimes find as we travel the up and down journeys of the world, that a gift or talent as a package deal has the same weight for all of us.
A very young talented singing group of five young African American kids from Gary, Indiana, shocked the musical sound waves of the entire world before most kids figured out what they wanted to be in life. In the mid sixties, The Jackson Five, “Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Michael,” and later Randy, turned the world of music upside down simply because of hard work and their natural ability to sing and dance. Also there were very talented sisters, Rebbie, La Toya and Janet who has become a Mega Solo Artist over the years.
The Jackson Five was led by younger brother Michael who later became an icon all over the world before and after his strange and untimely death in 2009. Every member of the group had a special gift that was perfected every time they hit the stage in front of millions of fans over the entirety of their careers.
Being the second oldest member of the group and better known for his Guitar picking, Tito always appeared to be the quieter and more laid back personality of the five brothers. Today, many years later and shortly after the death of his brother Michael, the non-laid back voice of Tito Jackson has been heard clean across the world in a country many of us know very little about Kenya, Africa.
As writer and interviewer for Consciousness Magazine, I highly accept the sincere pleasure of talking with not only a member of The Legendary Jackson Five, and Michael Jackson’s older brother, but Ambassador to Kenya and Honorary Citizen, “Mr. Tito Jackson.”
Elder Harris: Hello Tito, how’s it going?
Tito Jackson: Fine, how are you Lee?
EH: I’m fine! Do you have sunshine out there today?
TJ: Oh yes, out in Calabasas.
EH: We are actually dealing with a recovery period here in Carolina after the tornados tore up a lot of stuff.
TJ: Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of that on the news.
EH: You come from what most of us would consider a pretty large family. Tell us a little about growing up in Gary, Indiana as far as school and the community is concerned.
TJ: Gary, Indiana is a small town on the out skirts of the south side of Chicago. I grew up in times of poverty; there were some tough times when we moved there. You had to hustle as a kid and as an adult as well, to make ends meet; it was just a rough place. For us, our outlet was musical sports. We were singing in a group before we became the Jackson Five.
EH: So like many, you had to make ends meet at that time?
TJ: Yea, you had to find things to keep you occupied as a kid to keep you from going the wrong way. We found music as a sport. That kept us grounded as so were our father, which was a strong hand at keeping all his boys liable, which kept us from joining gangs and other troubles that were surrounding us. I take my hat off to that. Sometimes I felt like we got a bad shake, and I think about that all the time. Life is much longer than your childhood. My father basically prepared us for life.
When I think about Gary, I just know that its home no matter what and that’s where the heart is. It puts you in mind where when you’re going back to your old front. It’s just a magical time to just remember…you know, when you can remember your brothers and when you were young and everybody were together…it was just the thought.
EH: So it brings it all back?
TJ: It brings it all back!
EH: As a young kid, would you consider yourself being the quiet type of guy or would you say that in order to learn, you first have to be able to listen?
TJ: I was a listener. I only spoke when I was spoken to or asked my opinion or my view. I was more of a listener, the quiet type guy.
EH: What were your overall thoughts about becoming a musician? And did you ever think it would ever reach the level it did for you and your brothers?
TJ: When I was in Gary, my father and his brother had us singing and playing around the house. I wanted to be like my father; he mostly played guitar. When my father would be at work, I would play his guitar all day and put it back in the closet before he got home. He finally got me for it and then he put it in my lap and said, “Alright, show me what you know!”
So, when I started playing for him, his mouth flew open and then he took me to the pawn shop and brought me a guitar. After I started playing and learning everything on the radio, Jermaine was singing with me. We were doing three part harmony, just the three of us. We used to get Michael and Marlon out the room because they were little. They were bugging us while we were trying to sing; they were trying to play. They were playing with little trucks and stuff and then came running up to us saying, “I wanna be in the group!” We went to this play and heard Michael singing at the play. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. We were missing that all that time. So we put him in the group right away, even before we let Marlon in the group. When my father would be at work, our mother would sing with us, “Cotton Fields Back Home,” do you remember that song?
EH: Oh yea!
TJ: That’s the kind of stuff my mother would sometimes sing with us.
EH: When you heard Michael sing in front of you guys, you basically answered this question already, but, how did you guys really feel about him asking?
TJ: Yes, those were some exciting times. We knew we had something! He was something; he was just a little boy, 4 or 5 years old when he started singing. It was almost like nobody had to teach him; he was a natural!
EH: My mother used to sit and watch you guys perform and she would just laugh with joy and shake her head. Then she would say, “I can’t wait to see my boys doing good things together like these kids!” Did you ever feel the positive impact of what you guys brought to the hearts of your fans?
TJ: It took a lot of work, a lot of traveling and a lot of disappointments during our whole career. I always tell people that we had a career before The Jackson Five… before Motown. We were strong for a couple of years. We were first known as, “Ripples & Waves, then The Jackson and then The Jackson Five.” Our first recording was a song called “You’re a Big Boy Now,” and the flip side was called “You don’t have to be 21 to fall in love.”
All this was prior to signing with Motown.
EH: Michael used to sing that music like he was a grown man or like he had been in love before or something.
TJ: Yea, that’s why we used to open up for Jackie Wilson, James Brown and those people. Michael would just do his thing. He just loved everything they did when he was just a little boy. I mean everything they did on stage!
EH: Over the years of performing in front of mega crowds of people, somewhere inside you and your family, I’m feeling was a real soft spot for poor and underprivileged people. I could hear it in much of the music. What’s your comment about this?
TJ: Always, because, we remember when we weren’t as far as we are today. We helped poor people who didn’t have much, gave to organizations and just kind of helped them along the way. There was no certain reason for it. We all just gave of our time and efforts as much as we could.
EH: Songs like, “Man of War,” “With a Child’s Heart” and then later;” “Man in the Mirror”, and “Heal the World” by Michael, just says it all about the hearts of the Jackson Family.
TJ: “Can you Feel It” also, and “We can Change the World” from the Victory Tour.
EH: Yes, but speaking through the music with the words saying everything, it told me and should have told others of the love you guys have for other people.
TJ: Well, we’ve always done a lot of things for charity, whether they are little things or big things. We not only gave money, but our time to the sick, our shows or flying supplies and all types of things. We have done things for the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, but realizing that The Jacksons were between the two of them. Doing this makes your heart feel more for the poorer people that don’t have a fighting chance without your help. So, that’s what it’s about; I’ve been very fortunate and have had a chance to feel their pain all my life, so this made me want to be there for other people.
Elder Lee M. Harris commentary
Coming to Michael’s defense, the public media continued to make accusations about Michael’s friendship with young kids by criticizing him with evil scrutiny. At the end of the day, no one ever saw any wrong doing from Michael, he just wanted to feel the joy of being a grown up, but living with a child’s heart for children. NeverLand was a childhood place of fantasy and dreams that any child would love to go and was truly a blessing to many children.
The truth is, Michael and his sibling’s life as children were basically traded in for preparation for a better and wiser life as adults. Joseph and Catherine were truly great parents and the fruit of their labor shows today in their children.
In the song, “With a Child’s Heart,” Michael would sing his heart out trying to get the world to understand that if we keep just a little kid inside us in our everyday walk in life, we will never get so serious about the ways of the world that we forget how to have fun and live. As the song reads, “With a child’s heart, go face the worries of the day, with a child’s heart, turns each problem into play, no need to worry!” This explains Michael Jackson, “What a special guy he was!”
EH: Tito, although still dealing with the very shocking death of your younger brother Michael, what would you say is the main thing that keeps you giving your all to the people of this world?
TJ: And we do; with all the new projects that have come, major fortunes of it have gone to organizations of major charities like the Heal the World Foundation. We have to continue to do that. Dealing with life we have to be strong. We challenge each day with our good will and you realize that strong minds, we all have in our own ways. We have to realize that there are people that really need our help and appreciate our help. You also have to choose your friends and choose your enemies, because when you mean well and do well to yourself and those around you, you become more of a natural being I believe.
EH: Tito, you have very recently been named JOOF Ambassador to Kenya and Honorary Citizen by Kenya’s Rt. Honorary Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga. When did this interest in Kenya begin for you and how did this appointment come about?
TJ: Well, I’ve been to the African Nation on many occasions. I remember on my first trip to Africa, I went to Ouagadougou. My heart went out to the people because of seeing their suffering from being without some of the simplest things we have here in America, such as water supply and things of that nature. Also they are without food supplies, so these people have nothing; they don’t even have bathrooms. So, when I was offered the Ambassadorship, it is something you can’t ignore.
I think the Prime Minister had heard of many of the other goodwill things my family does as well as, Marlon being involved in some of the projects in Nigeria. So, I accepted the task and like I said earlier in the interview, there are a lot of things I can bring to the table, such as, clean water, medical supplies, technology and things of that nature. I feel like I can make a difference and we all should have that attitude. I do want to make a difference and I believe I can make a difference.
EH: It makes us feel good when we can give back to the communities and to the people.
TJ: Exactly! We’re rewarded in so many other things, whether it’s everyday life or whatever. You don’t look for a reward for doing it, just to get to do it is a reward in itself. That’s the way you have to look at it.
EH: In an article, I read where you talked about the Health and Education of the Kenyan people. You spoke of Life threatening Diseases including HIV/AIDS. Will your organization provide education and awareness only or is there some kind of hospitals or finances made available for them?
TJ: That depends on what type of programs we run, and what type of funds they provide. Right now, we are raising funds and doing what we can to help, starting with the donations and with the supplies. Hopefully, they can have their own hospitals, doctors and staff.
EH: Would you say that although people such as the people of Kenya that have major struggles in their everyday way of life are better off to a large degree than we are right here in the United States because of our lack of unity among each other?
TJ: No, I wouldn’t say they’re better off. As it is here, there are ways here to better your life and live stress free. For them, they are struggling for a better life so there are many disappointments, so they’re not better off.
EH: Do they basically stand together in unity though Tito?
TJ: Well, they have all those things such as standing together in unity, but things that seem simple for us seem difficult for them.
EH: Tito, tell us some of the other things about your new appointment to Kenya that we may not have covered that is of great importance to mention.
TJ: Lee, you know, we’re just going to spark things out. I’m going to be looking at some things such as doing some shows to raise funds. We are going to be autographing Michael Jackson’s shirts that he had as another way of raisings funds and putting together lively programs. So, this is basically where we’re standing right now.
EH: So, you do have a band right now that’s going to be performing?
TJ: Yes, I have a band. I have a lot of other artist as well that are willing to help us out, which makes it a little easier.
EH: Does your appointment as Ambassador allow recruitment through you into The JOOF?
TJ: Yes, there will be people! Absolutely, and like anyone that has knowledge of things like medical supplies, food, papers and anything that will be helpful.
EH: With the love, the gift and the talent for music already in your heart Tito, regardless to your new position; you have a new CD released or due to be released as we speak. Tell us about your CD, and where we can get a copy.
TJ: My new CD is called “So Far So Good”, and my new single is titled: “We Made It!” You can download it on I-tunes and other sites. That’s basically where I am right now. I recorded my CD now for two years, because I had taken a break after Michael’s death. Now I’m finishing it up and releasing it.
EH: To the best of your knowledge Tito, are any of your brothers doing any music projects at this time?
TJ: Well, Jackie has a few projects with his son Siggy. Other than that, I’m going to have a conference later today with my brothers and we’re going to talk about some things. Jermaine was working on some things a couple of months back, but we’re all going to be doing some things with the show.
EH: Tito, everything we accomplish has its own price in one way or another. What would you like to say to upcoming entertainers that will prepare them for this new way of life?
TJ: Well, some things have changed over the years. We now have such things as the computer, which wasn’t there when I came up. Now there’s writing, and other programs available, so there wasn’t a whole lot of monkeying in the studio because of the high cost of studio time each day. That’s what makes it so easy for these writers now, because you just have the good stuff and you can put it on I-tunes, YouTube, your own website… there’s a lot of music that has become very popular that way. Now that’s the good thing about it. The bad thing about it is who the company you’re with is. There is so many free downloads and things of that nature. Basically, there is no way for the artist to promote in order to drive the audiences to your live performances. For the musicians, it shows that they really have talent; they have the love for the music and are doing their thing. So it’s nothing wrong with it.
EH: I just want to tell you from my heart that being Michael’s age, I have always loved you guys and your music. I must also say that sometimes we get caught up in what we receive from people instead of looking into the hearts of them.
When Michael sang the song, “With a Childs Heart,” I knew where he was coming from because we sometimes allow ourselves to grow up too fast and before we know it, we have already stopped living. Nobody has to tell you that Michael was a beautiful person; I also know that Mike got his lead from you, Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy while sharing your love around the world.
TJ: Thank you very much, I really appreciate that!
EH: I would ask that you tell your family that I love them and I’m there in heart and spirit with the loss of Michael. Your father and mother raised a great group of kids and it wasn’t all about the music to say, but most of all it was and still is about the love and care you all have for others; God Bless the Jackson Family and bless your quest to assist the People of Kenya and their needs.
TJ: I would also like to tell the people that we thank them very much for what they’re doing and we love them very much for that and God Bless them!
EH: Thank you so much Tito!
TJ: Thank you also and God Bless!
2300 Jackson Street, “I’ll always find my way back home!”
As my wife and I stood outside the door of the Holy Terrance where Michael Jackson is laid to rest, passages of his life flowed through my mind of some of the sad moments in his life. Barely viewing the tomb that held his remains, the darkness of his resting place caused a heavy weighing on my heart.
I thought about how Michael has basically had to live his life in darkness because of media and public opinion that really knew nothing about this man, “Michael Jackson.” I just couldn’t help but pain for him even in his death, being placed in darkness away from the rest of the world he was born in.
When I think of, “2300 Jackson Street,” a song that was performed by The Jackson Family, singing about them being raised up in the small town of Gary, Indiana and how as Tito say, “Gary will always be home!”, something very touching came over my mind.
I and many other fans of this very special and blessed Jackson family feel that it would be of great dedication to Michael if he was to be returned to Gary, Indiana for permanent burial, “Back to where they started from!” Sometimes the life we live has a way of wrapping us into the world of public expectancy, but when it all ends for us, we should at least be rewarded with a resting peace into the light and outside of darkness.
Tito and the rest of his family is now the only gateway to who Michael Jackson really was as a person and they deserve the right to be able to lay him to rest where and how they choose. With the fact that no other human being on earth had drawn the attention, love, joy and finally the sadness after passing through this world, it is my opinion that Michael Jackson was then and is still the most loved, famous, and popular person of all times. There has been many great people according to their works, but Michael was a special man which his credits has to be given to his entire family from the teaching, love and tough love of his parents, to the love, unity and camaraderie of his brothers and sisters. So many would love to know that Michael Jackson, “The man, The person, The brother, The son, The King of Pop,” was back home, “2300 Jackson Street!”
Let’s continue to bless the Jackson Family with our prayers and support and become a part of the new mission Tito has accepted as, “Ambassador to Kenya.”
-Elder Lee M. Harris, Sr.
[Above Photos: Prime Minister Odinga, Tito Jackson & Ambassador Dr. Oranga: Photo credit Malcolm Ali]
Last modified: April 17, 2023