TRIBUTE TO KING OF POP NO MOCKERY
> SHOWCASE TO MICHAEL JACKSON TO BE RESPECTFUL RETROSPECTIVE
Special to The Commercial Appeal
COREY DAVIS, WHOSE Memphis Rebirth Entertainment has over two years presented a series of concerts paying tribute to influential African-American music stars, had long planned to stage one honoring Michael Jackson.
“At the end of last year I took a survey of which artists people would like to see, and I had an overwhelming response for Michael Jackson,” says Davis, who adds that he was already planning the event for Jackson’s birthday, Aug. 29, when the singer died on June 25. “Once I found out of his passing, I thought it would be only fitting to move ahead.”
On Saturday, the day that Jackson would have turned 51 years old, Memphis Rebirth will present “Memphis Remembers Michael,” a musical tribute to the singer at the New Daisy Theater on Beale Street. Among the performers slated to appear are Eric Cross and Karen Brown, both veterans of Davis’ “Rebirth of Soul” concert series, along with newcomer D. Monet.
The strange saga that was the final years of Michael Jackson’s life has unspooled into his death, with his personal physician under investigation for manslaughter and his three children under the care of his 79-year-old mother.
But even with all the tabloid headlines, his legions of fans have largely chosen to focus on Jackson’s musical legacy, which — from his days as the 6-year-old frontman for the Jackson 5 through the mega-success of Thriller and even his unjustly maligned final records — is considerable. True to his record-breaking ways, even in death, Jackson has experienced an unparalleled posthumous resurgence.
He has had at least two releases in the Top 10 of the comprehensive album charts for the past eight weeks and holds nine of the Top 10 spots on the catalog album charts.
With Jackson fans clamoring, Davis says he had a tough time whittling his lineup down, having to choose from some 50 artists who asked to be a part of the show.
“I chose artists that No. 1, were very passionate about Michael’s music,” says Davis. “No. 2, was to be able to capture the essence of Michael without falling into mockery. That’s a big thing, not being an impersonator but being an artist and a fan. A lot of artists I had coming to me were impersonators. They were trying to do everything just like Michael. And the whole purpose was to give honor and tribute to Michael in the artist’s own way.”
In some respects, that was a no-brainer for Brown.
“I can say that I won’t be doing any dancing,” jokes the Jackson, Miss., native, who otherwise doesn’t want to reveal what songs she will be performing.
Brown, who is a fan dating back to the rise of the Jackson 5 in the ’60s and ’70s, says that the key things that attracted her to Jackson’s work were the words, and that as she attempts to honor him they will remain her focus.
“His lyrics had meaning, not just a bunch of craziness like a lot of the music these days,” she says. “I’m just going to approach it with a lot of his flavor but then some of my own.”
Cross, the son of Stax recording artistWendy Rene, sees the challenge in much the same light, keying in on the thing that made Jackson a star, his remarkably expressive voice.
“I have his range,” says Cross, who has studied Jackson’s music leading up to the show. “But I’m just trying to hear what he was trying to put across in the studio. Some songs, his fast songs, some of the words you can’t tell what Michael is actually singing because he’s doing a lot of rhythmic things with his voice. He’s doing a lot with his breathing.”
But Cross is not deaf to the other things — the groundbreaking dancing ability and keen sense of showmanship — that made Jackson such an effective entertainer. As part of his set, which will include some of Cross’ personal favorites, including “Human Nature” and “P.Y.T.,” he will bring out his son, 12-year-old Khari, to dance to “Billie Jean.”
“He’s a phenomenal dancer; he came out of the womb dancing,” says Cross. “He reminds me so much of Michael. His favorite artists are Michael Jackson and James Brown. He cried when both of them died, even though he’s not really old enough to have a personal connection to them. But he’s seen them so many times on DVD. I guess in that way Michael Jackson will live forever.”
Karen Brown and Eric Cross were chosen by promoter Corey Davis for the Michael Jackson tribute because Davis sought “to capture the essence of Michael without falling into mockery.”