Keith Jackson: Family Memories

- Christina Chaffin


DAYTON, Ohio – Joseph and Katherine Jackson raised their nine children, (Rebbie, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Michael, Randy and Janet), at 2300 Jackson St., in Gary, Indiana. Through the memories of Joseph and Katherine’s nephew Keith Jackson, he describes the times he and his immediate family spent with his cousins as “musical,” “youthful” and “loving.” “Our parents were all very close and Mike and his family would come over to our house, or we would go over to their house,” Keith said. “We’d play kickball or baseball and just have fun.” According to Keith, some of his greatest memories with his cousins took place at 2300 Jackson St.

 “My brothers and I spent times watching my cousins practice when they lived in Gary, and they would practice around 3-4 times a day for three hours at a time,” he said. “Music was literally a living, breathing member of our entire family.” Though the Jackson family is known for their early legacy at Motown Records, Keith said music had been part of his family for years prior. Before the Jackson 5 was a group called The Falcons – two members being Keith’s father Martin Luther Jackson and his uncle Joseph. Keith said he was too young to have firsthand memories of his father and uncle’s group, but said he’s been told stories.

“[The Falcons] use to play in Gary at a place called the Black Oaks, where all of the Blues singers would play,” he said. “My dad and Joe had the group for a few years and then they started working in the steel mills, but they always continued to listen to music.” When Joseph and Katherine’s sons were known as the Jackson Five & Johnny, (featuring Johnny Jackson on drums), Keith said his father taught Tito how to play a lot of blues songs, including the song, “Caledonia.” He said, “Tito and my dad always had a lot in common, and when Tito does shows to this day, he always credits my father when speaking to the audience for teaching him some blues.”

Another memory Keith said he remembers of his cousins is of the way they harmonized music together. “I remember watching [the Jackson Five] like it was yesterday in my cousins living room at 2300 Jackson St., how they would start singing accapela,” he said. “I can’t remember the exact title of the song, but they would always harmonize lyrics that said, ‘Oh the bones, oh the bones, of the jackal bones. Oh the bones, oh the bones, of the jackal bones…,’ and they would sing this A Cappella in perfect pitch.” Keith said it was one of many songs the group would practice.

According to Keith, the years Joseph, Katherine and their children spent in Gary, Indiana were filled with music and laughter, and although he missed his cousins, aunt and uncle when they moved, he said he was inspired by the Jackson 5’s work at Motown Records. 

In the 1970’s when the Jackson 5 performed at the Regal Theatre in Chicago, Keith said he was 11 years old at the time, and said he will never forget the “fan experience” he went through. “My brothers and I stayed at a hotel with our cousins, and it was me, Michael, my brother Trent and Marlon who shared a room together,” he said. “That next morning, we got up really early and were still in our pajamas, and we decided to step outside to get some air. The next thing we knew, a ton of girls came running toward us. Michael, Marlon and Trent made it inside, but I was stuck and got mauled outside.” Keith said by the time security got there, he was beaten up from the fans grabbing him. “They thought I was a member of the Jackson 5.”
Though the experience was rough, he said it was one he never forgot because it showed him how much his cousins were adored. He said, “That one experience is what my cousins went through on a daily and nightly basis when they were the Jackson 5, but they continued their careers because they truly loved entertaining.”
When looking back on his memories, Keith said he was particularly close with Michael. Michael was 4 years older than him, but according to Keith, Michael always made him feel special. “Mike was great at drawing – such a great artist – and one time he drew a picture of me and gave it to me,” he said. “He drew the picture of me and it was designed as a cartoon-like drawing. I wish I still had it to remember him by, but when you’re a kid, you don’t think of things like that.” Still, Keith said it was one of the many memories he holds close of his cousin. 

According to Keith, the years have flown by, but his memories remain intact. He said the moments he and his brothers spent with their cousins in Gary, Indiana are important because nothing can erase them, and when asked if anything specifically stands out, he said the music will always be important, but the fun they had is what matters most. “We had so much fun as kids,” he said. “My uncle use to have us put on boxing gloves and box with each other, and I loved sitting outside on the car talking and joking with Michael. Those memories will always be with me because I’m always going to love my family.”

Behind the article: Doing this article with Keith Jackson was a real honor - not for who his cousins are, but for the down-to-earth kindness he displayed in our phone conversation. To describe it perfectly, it was "cool," because to him, Michael wasn't "Michael Jackson." Keith referred to him as "Mike," and that's how he referenced him throughout our entire conversation.

When Keith and I arranged to do the interview, everything was spontaneous - in a good way. We exchanged emails back and forth about the ideas of the article, and then before I knew it, we had an interview time set for the following afternoon. During our interview, I found out Keith was sitting at the Jacksons family home at 2300 Jackson St., in Gary, Indiana, and according to him, his memories were vivid and musical, but also kid-oriented.

Keith said he and his siblings were very close with their cousins. According to him, music was alive and well when he and his siblings were around their cousins, the Jackson Five, but said music is a single aspect of his memories. Keith said they all played a lot outside - sometimes at his house growing up, sometimes at 2300 Jackson St. "Boys will be boys, and we were boys," he said.

According to Keith, one of his last memories with Michael is from a few years ago, when Michael invited all of his cousins to California. "It was just so great to see him happy and for all of us to see each other, and meet younger generations of the family," he said. "I remember we all had a chance to perform with one another. Tito's sons 3T performed and they were amazing. Everyone was amazing, and it was great to see it and say, 'This is all of my family and we are all together.'"

Before we finished our interview, Keith said he wants everyone to know he appreciates the time everyone takes to visit Gary, Ind., and said he is thankful for the memories they share with him about his family. He said, "Those memories and stories mean a great deal to me."