“As Michael Jackson‘s memorial service is being held in L.A. as I write, I felt moved to go to the files and pull up an old negative from the time I got to see him perform and photograph him. We were all so much younger, and his music was a dominant note on the soundtrack of our lives. He was everywhere on the radio and MTV. It is almost incredible to remember how really big he was then. Seeing him and photographing him on assignment was a big deal. He was a major force and influence in popular music.
Michael Jackson performed at the Gator Bowl Stadium in Jacksonville Florida before 45,000 people for each night for three nights July 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 1984. I was there on July 23rd on assignment to photograph him for the Black Star Photo agency. It was a big news story everywhere Michael went.
He was on his Victory tour at the top of his game. He performed with his brothers Jackie, Jermaine, Tito, Marlon, and Randy. The tour reunited all Jackson brothers including Michael, who had just released the highly successful Thriller album in 1982, two years previous to the tour, and Jermaine, who had not recorded or toured with his brothers since they left Motown in 1975. The Jacksons’ Victory Tour was the group’s final concert tour of the United States and Canada.
The tour commenced on 6 July in Kansas City and concluded on 9 December in Los Angeles. The tour consisted of 55 concerts to approximately 2 million fans. It was named after the newly released Jacksons’ album Victory although none of the songs from that album were on the tour’s set list.
The tour reportedly grossed $75 million and set a new record for the then-largest grossing tour. *Michael Jackson donated all of his proceeds ($5 million) from the tour to three charities, including the T.J. Martell Foundation for Leukemia and Cancer Research, The United Negro College Fund, and the Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times.
There was one other reason for the concert to be memorable. They rounded up all of the photographers and video folks and put us in a fenced in area about 40-50 yards away from the stage.
Normally covering a concert the press would shoot from a spot just in front of the stage, so it was a little dismaying to find out how far way we were to be. A 600mm lens with an extender was kind of the only way to get a decent sized image at theses shows. We were all a little miffed. Dennis Hamilton of the Florida times Union newspaper brought along a bag of white gloves which we put on and posed for this photo. Dennis is in the top row center and I am just to his right. Carol Guzy, three time Pulitzer prize winning photographer at the Washington Post, is third from left. Will Dickey of the Florida Times Union is to the right of her. And down in front is Tom Burton from the Orlando Sentinel. Just to the right of Tom is Don Dughi, of UPI. and with the gloved hand sticking out, is John Coffeen of the Tampa Tribune.” Daniel Sheehan