Who was Michael and Janet Jackson's father Joe Jackson? Jackson family patriarch's life and career explained

24 January 2022, 17:18 | Updated: 4 August 2023, 15:07

Joseph Jackson with his sons in 1971
Joseph Jackson with his sons in 1971. Picture: Getty

Joe Jackson was the man at the head of the famous Jackson family, who oversaw the majority of his children become icons of the entertainment industry.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

The fierce patriarch of the Jackson family was a talent manager who saw a way of taking his family from a small two-bedroom house in Gary, Indiana, to one of the most wealthy families in America.

But who was he, how did he find his success and when did he pass away?

  1. Where was Joe Jackson born?

    Joe Jackson in 1982
    Joe Jackson in 1982. Picture: Getty

    Full name Joseph Walter Jackson, he was born in Fountain Hill, Arkansas to parents Crystal Lee (née King; 1907–1992) and Samuel Joseph Jackson (1893-1993).

    He was born on July 26, 1928.

    His father Samuel was a teacher, and Joe was the eldest of five children.

    Joe later recalled that his father was domineering and strict, and he described himself in his memoir The Jacksons as a "lonely child that had only few friends".

    When his parents split when he was aged 12, his mother, two brothers, and sister moved to East Chicago, Indiana. When he was 18, his father remarried.

    Joe got a job in East Chicago at Inland Steel Company, but didn't finish high school. It was here that he began to pursue his dreams of becoming a boxer.

  2. Who was Joe Jackson's wife and how many children did he have?

    Joe and Katherine Jackson in 1993
    Joe and Katherine Jackson in 1993. Picture: Getty

    While attempting a professional boxing career, Joe met 17-year-old Katherine Scruse, who also lived in East Chicago.

    Joe was actually married to another woman at the time, but was divorced in less than a year before he started dating Katherine.

    Joseph and Katherine were married on November 5, 1949, and in January 1950, they bought a small two-bedroom home on 2300 Jackson Street near East Chicago in Gary, Indiana.

    Their first child, Maureen Reillette 'Rebbie' Jackson, was born four months later on May 29, 1950.

    Joe soon quit his dreams of becoming a professional boxer in order to support his family, and began working as a full-time crane operator.

    In the 1950s, wife Katherine looked after their growing family. She began working part-time at Sears in Gary.

    Joe Jackson's children in 1977 ((clockwise from lower row, left): Janet, Randy, Jackie, Michael, Tito, Marlon, LaToya and Rebbie)
    Joe Jackson's children in 1977 ((clockwise from lower row, left): Janet, Randy, Jackie, Michael, Tito, Marlon, LaToya and Rebbie). Picture: Getty

    Joe and Katherine went on to have ten children in total. An 11th, Marlon's twin brother Brandon, died during childbirth.

    Joseph was alleged to have had a long extramarital affair. Katherine filed for divorce in 1973, but she decided to drop the divorce papers.

    The following year, Joe fathered a daughter with Cheryle Terrell, named JohVonnie. This led Joe and Cheryle to have a 25-year-long affair while raising JohVonnie.

    Katherine attempted to divorce her husband again in 1982, but was persuaded to drop the suit once more.

    Despite reportedly living separately for many years, Katherine and Joe remained legally married until his death in 2018.

    His children are:

  3. How did Joe Jackson get his start in music?

    The Jackson Family in 1972
    The Jackson Family in 1972. Picture: Getty

    During the early 1950s, Joe briefly performed with his younger brother Luther Jackson in their own blues band called The Falcons, playing guitar.

    However, The Falcons didn't get a record deal, and broke up.

    In the early 1960s, Joe began pushing his sons in a musical direction after he noticed them playing around with his musical instruments while he was at work.

    He began working with his three eldest sons Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine first. Younger sons Marlon and Michael were eventually included in the band, while youngest brother Randy was too young to join at the time.

    Joe began enforcing long and intense rehearsals for his young sons. The group first went under the name The Jackson Brothers.

    With Marlon and Michael joining, their name was changed to The Jackson 5.

    The Jacksons interview: Will there be a Michael Jackson hologram?

    After a couple of years performing at local talent shows and high schools, Joe booked them in bigger venues, and they eventually landed a show at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

    On November 21, 1967, The Jackson 5 signed their first record contract with Gordon Keith, owner of Steeltown Records in Gary, Indiana. The group's first single 'Big Boy', with Michael as the lead singer, was released on January 31, 1968.

    'Big Boy' was not a hit, but they became local celebrities in Gary. Within a year, Joe landed his sons an audition for Motown Records. The Jackson 5 won a record contract with Motown in March 1969.

  4. What was Joe Jackson's relationship with his children?

    Michael Jackson with Joe in 2005
    Michael Jackson with Joe in 2005. Picture: Getty

    By the late 1980s, Joe Jackson's image as a father started to be criticised, as the media reported stories told by his children that he was abusive towards them.

    While managing his family, he allegedly ordered each of them to call him 'Joseph', and it led to several siblings being estranged from him in later years.

    Michael Jackson claimed that from a young age he was physically and emotionally abused by his father, including tough rehearsals, whippings and name-calling, but he also said that his father's strict discipline played a large part in his eventual success.

    Michael spoke openly about his childhood abuse in a 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, saying that Joe would sit in a chair with a belt in his hand as Michael and his siblings rehearsed and that "if you didn't do it the right way, he would tear you up, really get you."

    Joe with Janet Jackson
    Joe with Janet Jackson. Picture: Getty

    Joe admitted to whipping his children with belts as punishment, but said he did not do so at random.

    Both Joe and Katherine denied the label of abuse. Katherine said that the whippings and physical punishments were common back then. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine and Marlon, have denied that their father was abusive.

    Michael ultimately forgave his father, stating that Joe's difficult upbringing in the Great Depression and the Jim Crow South, had toughened him emotionally, and made him push his children to succeed.

  5. When did Joe Jackson die?

    On June 27, 2018, Joe Jackson died during the final stages of terminal pancreatic cancer.

    His death came two days after the ninth anniversary of his son Michael's death, and less than a month before his 90th birthday.

    He was surrounded by his wife and surviving children.