On this day in 1969, a quintet of brothers from Gary, Indiana, donned the stage of the Ed Sullivan Show, dressed in charisma, promise, and eye-grabbing outfits. The Dec. 14 episode of the show was The Jackson 5’s first appearance, one in which Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael Jackson would capture the attention and the hearts of the nation.
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The brothers kicked off their set with a Sly and the Family Stone’s hit “Stand!” Synchronized dance moves met unshakable harmonies during the performance which bled into the song, “Who’s Loving You” after the then 10-year-old Michael – adorned in purple fringe and matching hat – told a humorous tale about a girl he met while playing in a sandbox. Over the urging of his brothers to stop, he explained to the crowd that they toasted their love during milk break, but had a falling out over finger painting.
The young bandleader stunned the audience with the raw emotion he let out while soulfully vocalizing the ballad, something you wouldn’t expect from someone his age. The group then closed their already impressive performance with an explosion into their soon-to-be-hit song, “I Want You Back.”
Their set came to an end and Sullivan called them over to take a bow. As the group walked off-stage, the host said to the audience, “The little fella in front is incredible,” referring to Michael.
The Jackson 5 had released their first album, Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5, just days before their Ed Sullivan Show debut, which launched them into superstardom. The fivesome quickly became a Motown mainstay, amassing a multitude of hit albums and dozens of Billboard Top 40 singles over their career together. Years later, Michael would break out on his own for an untouchable solo career that eventually cemented his legacy as the “King of Pop.”
Watch the Jackson 5’s Ed Sullivan Show debut, below.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images