Michael Jackson: 15 Years After His June 25, 2009 Death, Black Artists Are Still Paying Homage

Michael Jackson and Friends in 1999

Source: Gisela Schober / Getty

Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower,  In Ghana’s Blackstar Square, 

In Johannesburg, in Pittsburgh, In Birmingham, Alabama and Birmingham England, 

We are missing Michael Jackson, But we do know that we had him

And we are the world.” 

Maya Angelou, 2009 


On June 25, 2009, the world stopped for a moment, knowing it was forever changed. Michael Jackson, beloved across borders and cultures, took his last breath. On that day, 15 years ago, his death was completely unexpected: Michael was just weeks shy of an unprecedented, long-planned,  50-night residency at the O2 Arena in London. 

But as word of his death traveled at an immeasurable speed across the planet, and after the initial denials–this had to be an evil internet hoax, right, right—most of us remember where we were when we realized it was true. Some collapsed where they stood. Some searched for their own breath which too, had disappeared. And all of us at some point, just froze in our grief. What was there to say, how were we to capture an emotion that had no name? This wasn’t just celebrity type shock that leads to a tweeted sound and fury meaning noting. This was real, whole body, mind and soul pain because whether we’d met him or not, we knew Michael. We’d grown up alongside him, as peers, as younger siblings, as an extended family that seemed boundless. And it didn’t make sense.

Did this mean we would never hear his singularly  euphonious voice again, the voice that was that could be at once angelic and dangerous, vulnerable and undefeatable?

Did it mean that we would never see just one more move, elastic, rhythmic, awe-inspiring and trend-setting? 

Did it mean his words, his songwriting, his poetry, had been snatched from us and with it, our higher ground understanding of ourselves?

It couldn’t be true. Michael was the one who called us to love the Earth: 

Did you ever stop to notice /  All the blood we’ve shed before? / Did you ever stop to notice / This crying Earth, these weeping shores?

It was Michael who said,

Tell me what has become of my life… /  I’m tired of bein’ the victim of hate / You’re rapin’ me of my pride / Oh, for God’s sake /I look to heaven to fulfill its prophecy… / Black man, black mail / Throw the brother in jail

All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us

And after those first  days that alternated between stunned silence and torrents of tears, we accepted that it was true. We were forever more deprived of those endlessly elastic, effortlessly graceful legs. Those precise legs. And the sounds, his sounds–the perfect amalgam of melody and rhythm that made millions move, generations smile, and masses cry. 

Jackson’s influence extended across decades. During his life, numerous artists, including  Chris Brown, Ne-Yo, and others, perhaps more poignantly his beloved baby sister Janet,  all seemed to believe that the Jackson way led to all points excellence: his fearless, complex, approach to singing and musical his  dance moves and visionary short films, his idiosyncratic sense of style. sense. And even now, a decade-and-a-half on, we still see Michael, the soul of him, in contemporary R&B and Hip-Hop music and culture. 

Because despite the unfortunate moniker foisted upon him, “King of Pop,” it most assuredly was not a title he claimed himself. In fact, it no one really did. It was a chopped down version of what his dear friend, Elizabeth Taylor said when she presented Michael with the Heritage Award for Career Achievement at the 1989 Soul Train Awards. The legendary Ms. Taylor called the legendary Mr. Jackson “The true king of pop, rock and soul.”  

She called him the whole package and perhaps that was just all too much for the Jann Wenner’s of the world to take, They shifted the all-everything Michael to Pop Michael. Like Pop Brittney Spears, I guess.

Jackson Five, Coretta King

Young Michael and the Jackson 5 With Mrs. Coretta Scott King Source: Afro Newspaper/Gado / Getty

But rather than devote himself to producing simply catchy tunes, sort of like the click-bait of music, Jackson was fully, multi-dimensionally Black.  His peerless ambition for post-modern excellence connected with his Black audience, especially, and his professional approach can be likened to a hip-hop artist’s approach. His come-up in the music business derived from humble beginnings, a hard-driving (some would say abusive) father where at all costs, poverty had to be overcome.  Michael  wrote songs by beatboxing them into a recorder. He synthesized street dancing moves made popular by breakdancers. He even put real-life gang members in short films like “Beat It” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.”

Jackson was methodical when it came to his image. His choices to wear high-water pants with all-white socks – drawing the viewer’s attention to his feet while dancing, wearing a single white sequined glove on stage, the military aesthetic of his public outfits, and others were his successful attempts to transform himself into a brand; something bigger than himself; something that so many people could recognize and relate to for years to come. 

It should surprise no one then that so many rappers and modern singers still gravitate to Jackson’s music and style since his passing. Kanye West dedicated his 2010 album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, to Jackson’s memory while celebrating him with a parade in the long-form video of “Runaway.” 

Coi Leray rocked a sequined white glove at her 2023 Summer Jam performance in New York, as did Usher during this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. The legacy of Jackson lives on through today’s movers and shakers. 

Songwriters Hall Of Fame 48th Annual Induction And Awards - Show

Source: Larry Busacca / Getty

Here are four other moving examples of artists who have paid homage to Michael Jackson since his untimely death.


Glastonbury Festival - Day 4

Source: Tabatha Fireman / Getty

The Queen herself, Beyoncé has often cited Jackson as an artistic North Star. Queen Bey and Destiny’s Child paid homage to him in their 2001 video “Bootylicious.” She performed his 1979 fan favorite, “I Can’t Help It,” at her first concert  following his death, and sang his 1972 hit “I Wanna Be Where You Are” at a 2011 all-star tribute to Michael Jackson in Wales. Years later, during her first appearance at the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime Show, her outfit was a callback to Jackson’s military suit from his 1992 Dangerous World Tour, as well as his 1993 Super Bowl Halftime performance





Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X Surprise Visit To Lithia Springs High School

Source: Paras Griffin / Getty

Following the success of Old Town Road, Lil Nas X’s career reached a new gear after the release of his album, Montero. For his debut performance of the album’s title track, Lil Nas X decided to channel Jackson at the BET Awards. The performance used an Egyptian aesthetic that referenced Jackson’s 1992 short film, “Remember the Time.” Near the climax of the song, Lil Nas X and his background dancers kicked into some of Jackson’s memorable moves from “Remember the Time,” originally choreographed by Fatima Robinson. 


The Weeknd

The Weeknd

Source: Sonia Recchia / Getty

In Spike Lee’s documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off The Wall, Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye spoke about how Jackson was “a vocal inspiration” to him. The Weeknd has paid homage to Jackson before, covering “Dirty Diana” on his 2012 Echoes of Silence project. He gave MJ the most unveiled tribute during the video for his remix to 2022’s “Sacrifice.” In it, his steps light up the floor like in the “Billie Jean” short film, he dances like Jackson with his signature spins and leg flairs, and his glitter jacket is a take on Jackson’s sequined cardigan from his legendary Motown 25 performance. 


Kendrick Lamar

The 58th GRAMMY Awards - Show

Source: Kevork Djansezian / Getty

In 2016, Kendrick Lamar received 11 Grammy nominations for his album To Pimp a Butterfly. He was only one nod away from tying Michael Jackson’s 1984 record for most Grammy nominations in one year. When Tonight Show host, Jimmy Fallon, brought this up, Kendrick said both humbly and sincerely that he  preferred not to tie or surpass Jackson. Lamar has always respected Michael Jackson, name-dropping him and his lyrics on “King Kunta” and “Mortal Man.” The prison outfit during Lamar wore during a show-stopping 2016 Grammy performance mirrored Jackson’s costume in his extraordinary and deeply and powerfully moving 1996 short film, “They Don’t Care About Us.” More,  Jackson’s inspiration was evident during Lamar’s Worldwide Steppers tour, as Lamar nightly wore a single white sequined glove during performances all over the globe. 

Long Live The King of Pop, Rock and Soul!!



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Michael Jackson at LA Sports Arena


The post Michael Jackson: 15 Years After His June 25, 2009 Death, Black Artists Are Still Paying Homage appeared first on NewsOne.

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