After the news of Michael Jackson’s death, his fans went out into the streets and to the places that he was associated with in their cities. Togther, they shared memories, listened to Jackson's music—and sang along.
In New York, people gravitated to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where Jackson had his first big break. And in Detroit, people found themselves standing on the steps of the Motown Historical Museum.
Joining us are two people who joined the vigils. Terrance McKnight, WNYC’s Music Host, went out to the Apollo, while Amanda Le Claire , a producer at WDET in Detroit, headed towards Motown.
"What people will remember are these tunes. People will be able to separate the man, or his lifestyle, from the music."
— WNYC music host Terrance McKnight on Michael Jackson
Katherine Lanpher:I'm Katherine Lanpher, John Hockenberry is away.
After the news of Michael Jackson's death his fans went out into the streets and to the places in which he was most associated in their cities. In New York that meant they gathered at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. In Detroit, people found themselves standing on the steps of the Motown Historical Museum. Joining us now are two people who also felt compelled to go down and see what was going on. Terrance McKnight is the host of WNYC's Evening Music. He went out last night to check out the Apollo. Amanda leClaire is a producer at WDET in Detroit, one of our partners, and she headed towards Motown.
Katherine Lanpher: Alright, Terrance I want to start with you. Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Apollo, what were some of the conversations that you picked up?
Terrance McKnight: Some of the conversation dealt with Michael's legacy and what would be his legacy. I heard conversations about his skin, conversations about his nose, conversations about his hair, conversations about the children and the lovers and the music. And there were very heated discussions about that. As I mentioned there were people out their selling T-shirts, but there were people out there, but I think it was more celebratory than anything, even though there were heated discussions. People were just really celebrating this guy's music and they were standing in front of the Apollo, almost expecting something to happen. I don't know if we were expecting Michael to walk out of the Apollo and say it was a hoax. People were just standing and waiting and watching and singing. It was a huge celebration for him last night.
Katherine Lanpher: Amanda, how does that compare to what you saw in Detroit?
Amanda leClaire: In Detroit, the difference was that, what I kept hearing was people saying that despite whatever controversy he had in his life they were remembering him for the music. And that was what it was all about, the music that touched so many people.
Katherine Lanpher: I like this idea of what you were saying, Terrance, that they were expecting something to happen. There was something happening that was that all these people were gathering together. Talk about the generational differences that you saw.
Terrance McKnight: I saw probably kids as young as 15 up to 60, 65 so there were people who probably remember Michael and his brothers from the 60s. And there were young people that really impressed me. You know who couldn't have been around when his music was written and yet knew so many of the words and if they didn't know the words they knew the tunes. So when the words faded people were just hummin' and yellin' "we love you, Michael." I was really moved by the fact that he inspired so many people from so many different generations and so many different ethnicities. Whoever lived in that neighborhood, near the Apollo, came out so you saw a diverse crowd.
Katherine Lanpher: Amanda, I know you talked to several fans including Dolores Brown — lets hear from her now.
Dolores Brown: There will never be another Michael Jackson. There'll never be another king of pop like him because he was Michael in his own right. He was natural, he was gifted and all I want to say is God bless his family. My prayers are with his family and his children and it's just a great loss for us today.
Katherine Lanpher: That's Dolores Brown, she was one of the Michael Jackson fans gathered in Detroit, in front of the Motown Historical Museum. How focused were people on Jackson's connection to Motown in the conversations you heard last night?
Amanda leClaire: I think people felt that connection to him through Motown. The Jackson 5 being one of the groups that really cemented Motown as the legendary label that it was. Dolores was one of the people there. She was a little bit older and she looked like she was in shock. She definitely seemed like she was going through a stage of grief. There were other people there who were younger who were just, they had grown up on his music, through his parents and they were celebrating how he influenced the music that they were listening to now.
Katherine Lanpher. For the casual listener to Michael Jackson, I don't think necessarily everyone realizes the extent of his musical influence. We had Chuck D on earlier today talking about the influence that Michael Jackson had on his work with Public Enemy.
Terrance McKnight: The thing about Michael's music was, as we heard from someone in Detroit, he was so original. I think about a tune, "She's Out of My Life," Michael sang this tune and it was almost like a lament and he sang and at the end of the song he almost sounds as if he's crying. I think that was revolutionary in pop music and with his music, with his originality I think he really inspired a whole group of musicians to find their own voice and to look for that originality.
(-music from "She's Out of My Life")
Katherine Lanpher: You said last night that people were also arguing about his skin color and about his nose. Talk about how, the fact that that is even a part of the conversation. As a journalist do you feel like you have to bring it up? Already today we heard from Chuck D from Public Enemy saying this is not part of the legacy, we shouldn't be talking about this. How fair is that?
Terrance McKnight: Well, I think it's fair. I think in the end, in the final analysis what people will remember are these tunes. People will be able to separate the man from, or his lifestyle from the music, but there were so many positive things that he did. Think about all charities that Michael supported. He supported as many charities as he had hits almost. But this thing of skin color came up last night. I think that goes back to how Michael and his brothers came up. They came up in the late 60s when we saw black power movements and shouts of black is beautiful. And they had these afros and they could sing and they could dance. And it really seemed like they were dead center and all of what it meant to be black in the late 60s and early 70s. I think as Michael's skin problem developed, particularly in the black community, there was some suspicion about was he trying to get away from his culture, from his heritage, from who he was as a black man. And so that was what the discussion was about last night in regards to his skin color.
Katherine Lanpher: Amanda, you got some recording last night of fans singing along to "Man in the Mirror" . So there was extemporaneous singing?
Amanda leClaire: Yes, it was really touching. There were a lot of people on the lawn of the Motown Museum and there were some cars parked along Grand Boulevard with the doors thrown open. And at one point someone put "Man in the Mirror" on their stereo and everyone just kind of stopped.
(-sound of people singing along to "Man in the Mirror")
Katherine Lanpher: There you go. Fans singing along to "Man in the Mirror" in front of the Motown Historical Museum. Amanda, I love that, that must have been so much fun to be there. And that song in particular, Terrance, if we were going to pick songs that best summed up both the paradox and the glory of Michael Jackson's career, that would be one of them.
Terrance McKnight: I think another one Katherine would be "Off the Wall" because Michael Jackson really lived his life off the wall and that really speaks to the original composer the original entertainer that he was and constantly evolved into.
Katherine Lanpher: Terrance, I want to thank you for joining us today. That's Terrance McKnight, host of WNYC's Evening Music. Amanda leClaire of WDET Public Radio in Detroit thanks for that wonderful tape of people singing. Now we're going to listen to Michael himself the "Man in the Mirror".
(-music from "Man in the Mirror")