Meeting ‘King of Pop’ leaves lasting impression on St. Rose man
It was the year 1973. Page after page of high-end fashion magazines printed glossy images of young, hip models sporting bell-bottom jeans and clog heels. The Dodge Charger was one of the largest and most popular muscle cars to hit the streets, and the Jackson 5 - lead by then child star Michael Jackson - were topping the charts on radio stations across the country.
St. Rose native, and former New Orleans disc jockey, George Vinnett was also making a name for himself - first as a broadcaster on one of the city’s leading radio stations, and then as host of his own nationally-syndicated variety show, “Get Down,” where he had the pleasure of hosting the Jackson 5 and meeting the would-be King of Pop.
“‘Get Down’ premiered in September 1973, in New Orleans on WGNO Channel 26,” Vinnett said. “After its initial episode, major recording artists utilized the show’s name in some of their songs.”
Vinnett is referring to tunes written by music icons like Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie (Get Down, Get Down)” and Gilbert O. Sullivan’s “Get Down.”
“Much to my surprise, over 100 records were released using this theme,” Vinnett said. “I remember the 3 Degrees were the first guests to appear on the show exactly one week after their cameo appearance on the sitcom ‘Sanford and Son.’”
Yet one of the most memorable moments for Vinnett was when Jackson and his brothers appeared on the program.
“It was definitely a big deal when the Jackson 5 appeared on the show,” Vinnett said. “And although the group was a family act, it was Michael (Jackson) that shined with talent. I knew he was going to be a great solo artist one day.”
And he did. In the early 1980s, Jackson became a dominant figure in American popular music and culture. He was the first African American entertainer to amass a strong crossover following on MTV, with videos such as “Beat It,” “Billie Jean” and “Thriller” - widely credited with transforming the music video from a promotional tool into an art form.
In the 1990s, Jackson renewed a record deal with Sony for $65 million, a record-breaking contract at the time. He would go on to perform sold-out concerts around the world, marry Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, and develop the real estate wonderland known as Neverland Ranch.
“The life and feats that Michael Jackson achieved were unlike any other in our lifetime,” Vinnett said. “Certainly when I think of Michael Jackson I don’t mean to suggest that in no way he is God, but he was godly. Michael Jackson was creative, he was for all people of all races and nationalities.
“When he and the Jackson 5 performed on ‘Get Down’ he was seemingly larger than life.”
Vinnett’s “Get Down” variety show was viewed in 35 major cities throughout the United States like Los Angeles, Chicago and, of course, New Orleans.
Renowned superstars including Ray Charles, BB King, Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier and KC and the Sunshine Band all made their way to Vinnett’s stage, helping make it one of the first fully-integrated shows of its time.
And in the wake of Jackson’s death, Vinnett takes time to remember his first meeting with the pop star - a memory that won’t soon fade.
“Michael Jackson was endowed with a gift of power, ability, influence, clout and authorization as was evident by his private and public life,” he said. “And I will always remember the moment that I was graced with the opportunity to witness all of these great characteristics firsthand.”
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