From time to time on this blog, I’ve done features on some of Michael’s favorite foods and eating establishments. Occasionally I receive promotional requests from some of his favorite (or even rumored) favorite dining establishments. While I do not, as a rule, like to use this site to engage in any sort of promotional advertising or endorsements, I couldn’t help but be intrigued when I received a request from Chakra Indian restaurant in Beverly Hills, largely because Michael’s relationship with this particular establishment already has somewhat legendary status. It’s mostly known as the site of the last Jackson family gathering which Michael attended, in May of 2009 on the occasion of Joe and Katherine’s 60th wedding anniversary. Out of that particular event came the last known photo of Michael with the Jackson family. But in actuality, it’s a relationship that goes back much further.
When we talk about Michael Jackson and his favorite foods, most fans immediately think of KFC. But along with his weakness for the Colonel’s secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices, other favorites high on the list were sushi, Mexican food, and even the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish which he once proclaimed as “pretty good” though he wasn’t overly impressed with the rest of the menu (but as with so many parents, an at least somewhat acquired taste for Mickey D’s had to come with the territory!). But what about when it came to fine dining, or just wanting a place where he could actually sit down at a table and order a meal without being bothered? Or a place where he could arrange private family celebrations and intimate dinners with friends? For those times, only one restaurant fit the bill: Chakra of Beverly Hills. According to many reports, Chakra is a rather unassuming restaurant from the outside, one that blends so seamlessly with other similarly ethnic themed shops and restaurants on Wilshire Boulevard and Doheny Drive that it’s rumored to be easy to miss if one isn’t specifically watching out for it.
This is, as we say, one of those “well kept” secrets that, nevertheless, everyone in the know, well, “knows.” And that just might be the first clue, as one of the first indicators of true greatness is that the “best” doesn’t usually have to boast. When Michael Jackson says you have the best food in Beverly Hills, why would you need to, right?
The initial request that I received from Chakra’s was for a restaurant review. However, I informed them that I don’t live in the Los Angeles area and have no plans to be in the area in the immediate future. Instead, I offered something else: How about an exclusive interview of what it was like serving and waiting on Michael Jackson? Much to my delight, the offer was accepted and below are the answers I received.
The first, and obvious, question had to be about the food. What specific menu items were Michael’s favorite? According to Vadivel, Michael loved the “Potato Samosa, Garlic Naan, Channa Masala, Jack Fruit, and fresh berries. ” For those who don’t know, a samosa is a deep-fried pastry usually filled with spiced potatoes, peas, and other various fillings, which can be dipped.
Garlic naan is a traditional Indian garlic bread that has a reputation as being delicious but-beware!-quite loud, as raw garlic is the principle ingredient. Let’s hope Michael kept plenty of breath mints on hand for afterward! Channa Masala is a very spicy dish of chick peas, which, accompanied with the naan, would have made for quite a kick!
Jack fruit is native to Southeast Asia and is reputed to be a food that can provide a great spiritual boost to one’s system. For someone like me whose palate revolts against anything too raw, rubbery or crunchy, these things frankly look like a mutha to bite through, but according to most sources, they are exotically aromatic and wildly sweet and savory to the taste-no doubt, the perfect cap to such a spicy meal.
Of course, Michael wasn’t always dining alone. Chakra’s was also a place where he often dined with the kids, Prince, Paris and Blanket. I asked about some of their favorite menu items. The Malai Chicken was a favorite. along with Tandoori Salmon. They also shared their dad’s love for the samosas and garlic naan.
And what about Michael’s oft reported tendency to leave behind a messy place? These stories have apparently been somewhat exaggerated through the years. Vadivel reports that Michael “didn’t leave a messy place” and “did a good job” cleaning up after himself and his-or, at least, as much as any ordinary patron in a restaurant would do.
Vadivel also recalls that Michael actually didn’t interact much with the wait staff (the contact between them was kept minimal) but when he was served, he was always polite, smiled, and said “thank you.”
Before Michael’s death, when he was still a frequent customer, his patronage had to be kept extremely low-key. Since his passing, however, the restaurant has been a lot more open in promoting themselves as “Michael Jackson’s Favorite Restaurant in L.A”. The menu now features a special “King of Pop” dish which combines many of his favorite dishes for one price, and the “Smooth Criminal” is rumored to be a drink as smooth as its namesake but with a vicious kick!
Fans on their “Michael-ing” tours of Los Angeles often make Chakra’s one of their “have to” places to visit, and yes, Michael’s favorite booth is even available with a reservation.
But, frankly, this is the kind of cashing in on Michael’s name that I don’t mind. After all, one can’t go to Memphis without encountering at least a dozen greasy spoons claiming to be Elvis’s favorite place to grab a cheeseburger. Even Penn’s Hamburgers, a local favorite in Decatur, Alabama where I grew up, has the distinction of being a place that Elvis loved to send his peeps on secret runs. There’s just something about being able to sit where a legend once sat, smelling the same aromas and ingesting the same cuisine, that packs a vicarious thrill. We all like to feel a little closer to our idols; what turned them on, what sensory pleasures did they enjoy; what flavors suited their palates and excited their taste buds? There may be something slightly voyeuristic in requesting a celebrity’s favorite booth and ordering his favorite dishes; we know it won’t transform our lives, or make us musical geniuses. But it does bring us a little closer to their humanity, and therein lies the thrill.
Michael Jackson wasn’t exactly celebrating his 47th birthday on August 29th, 2005. Not only had he just undergone the horrific ordeal of the Arvizo trial during the first half of the year, but it also happened that August 29th, 2005, was the day that Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, precipitating one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. The death toll was in the thousands (though to this day, there remains no official, accurate count of just how many died in Louisiana alone), and no one can forget those horrific images of flooded New Orleans and those hundreds of stranded residents who couldn’t or wouldn’t flee. Many of Katrina’s victims were from the poor areas around the Ninth Ward, which not only received the worst flooding but also, where there were many residents who didn’t have transportation or money to evacuate.
I was aware that Katrina had hit on the same date as Michael’s birthday, though in past years I had never really given much thought to the connection. However, with this year being the tenth anniversary of Katrina, I had been thinking a lot more lately about this coincidence, and wondering, if anything, what Michael’s reaction had been. I also wondered if he had planned any kind of relief effort, as he had done with so many past tragedies, from the famine in Ethiopia, to 9/11, to the tsunami disaster in 2004.
I didn’t have to search very long or hard to find that answer. Even though Michael’s spirit had been crushed by a humiliating trial; even though he certainly had plenty of his own woes to think about, and even though he had by then turned very bitter against the U.S. and was living in Bahrain, his immediate reaction to the news of Katrina was how to help the people of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. And apparently, he was giving no thought to the court of American public opinion, or even if such a relief effort could fly in the wake of his name having been so tarnished the previous spring. It isn’t hard to imagine that Michael must have spent his 47th birthday like so many of the rest of us that day, glued to those terrible reports and images coming out of New Orleans. And he responded in the only way a musician truly can. He wrote a song. And apparently, must have done so pretty quickly, because by September 7th, only a little over a week after Katrina hit, the press was announcing his intended charity relief single, “From the Bottom of My Heart.”
Here is the story that appeared on CNN:
Jackson plans Katrina victims song
Wednesday, September 7, 2005; Posted: 5:53 a.m. EDT (09:53 GMT)
Jackson has been staying in Bahrain since his acquittal in June.
LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) — Pop star Michael Jackson, who has been in seclusion since his acquittal on sex abuse charges, has written a song that he will record to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina, according to his publicist.
Jackson will record the single, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” within two weeks, and he plans to enlist other entertainers for the project, spokeswoman Raymone Bain said.
“It pains me to watch the human suffering taking place in the Gulf region of my country,” Jackson, 47, said in a written statement released Tuesday.
“My heart and prayers go out to every individual who has had to endure the pain and suffering caused by this tragedy.”
He added: “I will be reaching out to others within the music industry to join me in helping bring relief and hope to these resilient people who have lost everything.”
Jackson, who left his Neverland Valley Ranch in California for Bahrain after his acquittal on child molestation charges in June, will record the song on a label owned by Bahrain’s crown prince, Bain said, and donate the proceeds to hurricane victims.
Bain said Jackson was hoping to repeat the success he had with “We Are the World,” a 1985 charity single with dozens of the era’s top recording stars that raised more than $60 million for Africa. Jackson wrote the song with singer Lionel Richie.
In reading this article from 2005, there were a couple of things of interest that I noted. One was Michael’s statement about Katrina’s victims and his emphasis on the fact that this tragedy had taken place in “my country.” I’m guessing he was playing it nice in wording it thus for the media, but I’m sure he must have shared the impotent rage that many African-American citizens were feeling, not only due to the fact that many of the victims hardest hit were poor African-Americans, but as the days had passed, the mounting frustration with the government’s handling of the situation. I think it also shows something else, however. It shows that, when pinch came to shove, his great faith in humanity and that eternal optimism that he could still strive to heal the world had not been tarnished, even in the aftermath of his own greatest, personal tragedy. He apparently still had faith that he could rally celebrities to this cause, and that some good would come from it.
No One Who Lived Through It Can Forget These Horrific Images Of Ten Years Ago:
However, within two weeks, “From the Bottom of My Heart” had still not emerged, and it appeared that he was getting very little in the way of celebrity support:
Michael Jackson Working On Katrina Song — But With Whom?
No artists have yet confirmed participation in the benefit single.
In his first interview since being cleared of child-molestation charges, Michael Jackson said he’s hard at work on his Hurricane Katrina benefit song, “From the Bottom of My Heart,” and that he’s feeling well after several health scares during the trial.
Jackson told The Associated Press during the brief interview that he’s “moving full speed ahead” on the single.
But unlike “We Are the World” — the 1985 charity hit co-written by Jackson that quickly drew participation from such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Willie Nelson, Billy Joel and Paul Simon — so far, no artists have confirmed participation in the recording of the single to aid victims of the August 29 disaster.
“I’m constantly working on it,” Jackson said of the song, which he first announced on September 6. At the time, Jackson said in a statement that he had written the song and intended to contact artists within days and record it within two weeks.
While Babyface’s spokesperson confirmed that the singer is down to record with Jackson, representatives for R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Ciara, Wyclef Jean, Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill said those artists have been contacted but have not yet agreed to participate. Missy Elliott’s rep said she and Jackson are in discussions about the song but have not yet reached any agreement. Spokespeople for Lenny Kravitz, James Brown, Yolanda Adams and the O’Jays could not be reached by press time.
Jackson’s spokesperson, Raymone Bain — who last week confirmed the participation of Brown, Jay-Z, Blige, Elliott, Kravitz, Kelly, Snoop and Ciara — could not be reached for comment.
Four years ago, Jackson announced plans for a benefit song for the victims of the September 11 terror attacks. “What More Can I Give” featured vocals by Ricky Martin, Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Reba McEntire.The song was shelved and never officially saw the light of day.
Following his child-molestation trial — which he described as “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” in his recent AP interview — Jackson and his children left the United States to take up residence in the Middle Eastern country of Bahrain, where the singer is still “resting and recovering.” Jackson is there as the guest of Prince Abdullah, the son of the country’s king. “From the Bottom of My Heart” is scheduled to be released on Abdullah’s 2 Seas Records.
Jackson, who has not appeared in public since being acquitted in June (see“Michael Jackson Not Guilty On All Charges” ), said “I’m feeling good,” after looking dangerously frail and suffering from various maladies during the trial, including a bad back and the flu.
So it appears that Raymone Bain-in yet another of her nefarious blunders-had prematurely released to the media a whole host of celebrity names that hadn’t even been confirmed. Sadly, it seems Michael was trying hard, but no one at that time was jumping to partner up with him to make it happen. However, it’s very possible this wasn’t the only reason for the delay. Michael’s own touted perfectionism could have also been a contributing factor. In interview after interview, he would always assure that he was working “full speed ahead on it.” But obviously, it had not come together in two weeks as originally hoped. What we can gather is that the song was probably still in a very raw state when the first announcement was made on Sept 7; hence, the rather inferior and weak title.
And it is also quite possible that, as usual, the media was jumping to put its own negative spin on the project. Lionel Ritchie was among those whom Michael had reached out to, and Ritchie was quoted in a late 2005 interview as saying the interest was definitely there but the logistics of getting so many celebrities together had not been properly worked out. In other words, it may have simply come down to poor planning and organization.
But according to this Billboard article from February of 2006, the project had finally come together. Not only did the song now have a new and improved title-“I Have This Dream”-but was actually recorded in London on November 1, 2005!
Jackson’s Katrina Song Said To Be Ready
Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks.
Eight days after Hurricane Katrina hit, Michael Jackson announced he would release an all-star charity single within two weeks. Nearly six months later, after questions about exactly who would be participating, the prince who has been hosting Jackson during his self-imposed exile in Bahrain says the song will come out by the end of this month.
In a telephone interview from Dubai last week, Sheik Abdullah bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of Bahrain’s king, said, “The record is coming along great. We’ve been taking our time to perfect it and mix it.”
The song is currently titled “I Have This Dream,” and it includes Snoop Dogg, R. Kelly, Ciara, Keyisha Cole, James Ingram, Jackson’s brother Jermaine, Shanice, the Rev. Shirley Caesar and the O’Jays, the prince said.
Missing are James Brown, Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and Lenny Kravitz, who Jackson spokeswoman Raymone Bain said in September had agreed to participate.
“We were wondering whether or not it was ever coming out,” O’Jays co-manager Andy Gibson said. “They recorded their part of it two or three months ago.”
The prince said the release has been delayed because additional artists wanted to contribute. But he declined to name those artists — “I’d like to keep that as a surprise” — or to name the company he claimed to have secured to sell the song via CDs and the Internet.
Prince Abdullah, 30, plans to release the song on his own 2 Seas label. “Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”
Jackson has been living in Bahrain since his acquittal in a harrowing molestation trial last year, and now has a house there, the prince said. He didn’t know if Jackson plans to settle in the country permanently.
Several of the participating artists recorded their portions of the song Nov. 1, gathering at a Los Angeles studio, Bain said.
“James Ingram, Ciara, Snoop Dogg and Shirley Caesar were all there,” said O’Jays lead singer Eddie Levert. “Michael produced it on the phone from Bahrain. He talked to Shirley Caesar, he talked to James Ingram. He talked to everyone except me.”
“Overall, it came out very well,” Levert said. “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”
Asked if the song’s release was a harbinger of a new Jackson album, Prince Abdullah laughed and said, “I will just say we’ve been very busy.”
“This is a raindrop before the thunderstorm,” he said. “He’s getting ready to come out with a lot of bells and whistles. He’s so energized. It’s explosive.”
So, from Prince Abdullah’s comments, we do get a few choice hints of what the song might have sounded like:
Michael did a wonderful track,” he said. “His voice was phenomenal.” He said the song, which Jackson wrote, “is a message of peace and help and caring. It’s a song of total oneness.”
And this from Eddie Levert: “It had a strong gospel feel. I think it’s really a great song. If radio plays it, it could do very well.”
Even though never released, the song apparently received sufficient notoriety to be placed among Wikipedia’s listing of charity songs for Katrina relief, where it is listed as having been recorded by “Michael Jackson and All Stars”:
But sadly, the fate of “From the Bottom of My Heart”/I Have This Dream” seemed to have gone the way of so many planned projects during this phase. I can only guess that Michael’s soured relations with Prince Abdullah, resulting in an eventual court settlement, was probably a major contributing factor. To this day, the Prince is said to be sitting on a goldmine of unreleased stuff, including recordings for a CD that never materialized and a reportedly (but unconfirmed) massive, 600 page manuscript that was alleged to be an autobiography in progress. That these items do exist is, at least, proof that some of the snarkier media reports of the time (which accused Michael of being lazy and completely reneging on his promises by delivering nothing) were unwarranted. Apparently, Michael was not only working and working hard, but delivering, too-at least to a point. It’s just that not much was ever finished, and what was, apparently became the property of Prince Abdullah after the settlement.
Whatever the circumstances, it is tragic indeed that not one, but two of Michael’s planned charity relief singles, both for two of the U.S.’s most tragic events in recent history-“What More Can I Give” for 9/11 victims and “From the Bottom of My Heart” for Katrina victims- ended up being sacrificed to greed and litigation red tape. Imagine how much money could have been raised for victims; how much good these songs could have accomplished!
Recording Snippet Said To Be A Demo of “From the Bottom of My Heart”-But Unfortunately, Minus The “Phenomenal” Vocal:
It could probably be safely said that August 29th, 2005 was far from Michael’s happiest birthday, as he witnessed the images of the terrible devastation being wrought in his homeland. As I was watching documentaries on Katrina’s 10th anniversary the other night, I was also struck by something they said; the fact that one reason the hurricanes of the last decade have been so especially numerous and devastating has been due to the increased ocean temperatures. I couldn’t help but think that it had been exactly ten years prior to Katrina that Michael had prophesied many of these events to come in “Earth Song.” As David Nordahl and I had once discussed, Michael was well aware that we were in the time of the Earth Changes.
But if the devastation and tragedy of Hurricane Katrina did one bit of infinitesimal good, it was the fact that it shook Michael out of the apathy that had gripped him since the trial, and ignited in him the spark to once again, as he had said, “give a damn.” It reminded him that, personal tragedies aside, there was much worse suffering in the world, and that his work to heal the world-his real life’s mission- was far from over. There was still much work to be done. One can only imagine how the failure of this project, at a time when it was so desperately needed, must have chaffed him. But in reading about his enthusiasm for it, I am reminded again of that eternal optimism he had for humanity. When times were darkest, it was where he drew his strength.
On this August 29th, as we, the fandom, celebrate Michael’s birthday, let’s also not forget the terrible tragedy of Katrina and what happened ten years ago on this date. Ten years later, there is still no healing for many. I know that Michael would agree with me 100%-from the bottom of his heart.
Hi all! I am going to be on a brief hiatus for a little while, as I am very stressed with work right now and trying to get things caught up before we leave on an out of town trip for the weekend. To tide you over in the meantime, here is an article that has been buried for a long time in the old, pre-2011 Allforloveblog archives. I thought it would be worth resurrecting for two reasons: One, not many people saw it back when it was first posted, since the blog was still relatively new at that time. Secondly, I will soon be doing some important updates to this piece as I am planning my own on-the-road investigation into Michael’s Alabama roots (probably this spring). Now that I have access to the old archives and have copied most of the pre-2011 articles, I will be reprinting and updating quite a few of these classic posts as time permits. Enjoy, and I will be back with all new material, including the latest updates to the “Australian Conspiracy” soon!
While most people are aware of Michael’s roots in Gary, Indiana, not as much is known about Michael’s ties to Alabama. As a native and lifelong resident of Alabama, this is a subject that has fascinated me–largely because, like many Alabamians, I was totally unaware of Michael’s Alabama ties until after his death. After all, it was never something that was widely publicized. His mother Katherine was born here, and her family then moved to Indiana when she was a small child. In fact, to the end of his own life, Michael Jackson retained a slight Alabama inflection, obvious in his speech (but one that, for the most part, only a discerning Alabmaian ear would pick up on). I do remember that it was a huge deal in 1984 when The Jacksons came to Birmingham to rehearse for the Victory tour-a huge deal because it meant, at least for those few weeks, we in Alabama had Michael Jackson all to ourselves for just a little while.
But what most of us Alabamians did not know was just how often Michael was in the state, usually lowkey and even incognitio, of course, to visit his mother’s relatives in Russell County and the small city of Hurtsboro (Katherine was actually born in nearby Barbour County, but her mother and stepfather later resettled in Hurtsboro). In LaToya’s autobiography, she states that Hurtsboro’s population is around 1,000. But a more recent census listed on Wikipedia gives the town’s population as 592.
The name of the town may be more than a bit appropriate, considering that Michael Jackson and my home state, unfortunately, did not always have the most cordial relationship. While I’m sure Michael may have had some happy memories of the state, it seemed later in life that coming to Alabama often spelled disaster for him. His string of bad luck in the state included everything from a racially motivated beating that landed him in an Alabama hospital, to a severe case of stomach cramps that nearly put an end to the Victory tour in ’84.
Of all the things I have learned about Michael’s comings and goings in Alabama, the beating remains for me the most disturbing-disturbing for two reasons, one being the fact that it occurred AFTER he was already famous (in fact, the incident occurred post-Thriller) and, 2: Why was it kept out of the local media and never reported? What were they afraid of? Or did Michael himself choose not to go public with it?
But before getting into all of that, let’s back up for a minute to get some more background on Michael’s Alabama roots.
After June 25th, 2009, a rash of local Alabama writers took an avid interest in educating the public about Michael’s maternal ties to the state. One of the more in-depth and interesting articles came from a colleague of mine, Joseph Margetanski. Margetanski and I both do freelance articles for the same local Alabama paper, “The Valley Planet.” Margetanski had spent a considerable amount of time tracing Michael’s family roots in the state. In his article that appeared in the July 23rd issue, Margetanski wrote:
Michael Jackson’s family ties to Alabama date back to the beginning of the 20th century. His grandfather, Prince Albert Screws, was born October 16, 1907 in Jernigan in RussellCounty, Alabama, just across the state line from Columbus, Georgia. He saw service in the First World War, but his main occupations were railroad work and cotton farming. He later moved to neighboring BarbourCounty. He married Martha Upshaw (from whose mother, Josephine, Michael received his middle name Joseph). Like her husband, Martha was also an Alabama native. And on May 4, 1930, Martha gave birth to Kattie B. Screws.
Kattie’s life was a challenge almost from the moment she was born. Shortly after her birth, the Screws family left BarbourCounty and their name behind. Prince changed their last name to Scruse, and changed Kattie’s name to Katherine Esther Scruse. As if getting three names wasn’t traumatic enough, young Katherine developed polio-all before she was four.
Katherine beat the deadly disease, but it left its mark on her. To this day, she walks with a limp. After her bout with polio, at the age of four, the Scruse family moved north, as did many African-American families. They settled in East Chicago, Indiana, not far from where her famous son would be born. It was there that Katherine met Joseph Jackson, a former boxer…
…As brief as they were, Katherine’s Alabama roots tugged at the souls of her children as well. Michael Jackson sang backup vocals for Kenny Rogers in the country singer’s 1980 hit “Goin’ Home To Alabama.” Four years later, The Jackson 5-brothers Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael-rehearsed in Birmingham for their “Victory” tour. They greeted fans from their hotel balcony, after a heartfelt request from the city’s mayor, Richard Arrington. At least two Alabama residents became intimately involved with the youngest, and most famous, member of the pop group. John Ray of Birmingham, founder of Just In Time Music, Inc., promoted three Michael Jackson concerts in Dallas. David Rowland of Summerdale was Jackson’s pilot for six months, , while the rising star was touring North America. Rowland flew Jackson as far as Niagara Falls and Vancouver…
Not only were the Jacksons in and out of the state many times through the years, but often, in times of her greatest troubles, Michael’s mother Katherine would return here (often on her own) simply to seek solace and to regroup spiritually. Of course, that would make sense. Often, in dark times, one can find the greatest comfort in getting back to their roots. In the early 80′s, when Joseph’s adultery had finally gotten the best of her, Katherine escaped for several weeks to the refuge of tiny Hurstsboro. Later, she would return on a search for her family roots. This was when she looked up a young local man, Larry Screws, who had no idea until that visit that he was actually Michael Jackson’s distant cousin!
But in a county as small and rural as Russell County, Alabama, it doesn’t take much asking around for anyone named “Screws” for one thing to lead to another. Eventually, Katherine was directed to Larry Screws,who of course was delighted to learn he was actually related to the King of Pop. He says it was the “glitz and glamour” of Michael’s life that kept them apart. (Note: I was not able to embed it, but if you click on the link for the below article, there is an interesting local news video on Larry Screws and Michael’s ties to Alabama).
“We were just proud of knowing that they were related to us.” said Larry Screws.
Larry Screws was a distant cousin to Michael Jackson, but he didn’t know it until he was in his early 20’s.
“I guess the thing that strikes us most is that we didnt know of them until she came to us.” said Screws.
Katherine Jackson, Michael’s mother’s decided to search for her relatives.
The search lead her back to the place she was born, Alabama. She was born in Barbour County and moved up to East Chicago, Indiana when she was four.
Her maiden name Katherine Screws.
Larry says that’s all she needed to say to find her way to her them.
“Russell County is a county where everybody knows everybody.” said Screws.
Larry says the life of glitz and glamour is the reason he never had a chance to meet his cousin.
“I guess because of the celebrity status we never became close.” said Screws.
Of course, given the frequency of Michael’s visits here, it was probably much more likely that Michael simply did not know of his cousin’s existence. The Screws/Scruse are a large, extended family, scattered throughout the neighboring counties of Russell and Barbour. And every day, it is almost impossible to not find someone claiming to be kin to Michael, claims that are nearly impossible to either verify or disprove with any certainty. But given the proliferation of Scruse/Screws in the area, it’s usually far more logical to assume they are probably being truthful than not.
Michael’s family ties to the state have for sure been played up more since his death. Even in 1984, when The Jacksons spent several weeks in Birmingham rehearsing for Victory, I didn’t recall hearing that much about his family ties. However, as I said, I do recall that his residency here was a HUGE deal. The biggest superstar in the world was right here in Alabama, rehearsing for a tour, and you’d better believe, the local media made the most of it! If he ventured out of the hotel to go to the park, we heard all about it. If he went shopping at a local mall (which he did, in disguise, of course) it made the local papers even as far north as where I live, approximately eighty-two miles away. When he went Witnessing, it was all the talk on the local radio, though of course they did not reveal to the public that he had gone Witnessing door-to-door in the Birmingham suburb of Trussville until the next day.
I remember at the time the reaction of many locals was that they thought it was a little bizarre. Back then, a lot of people weren’t aware that Michael was a Jehovah’s Witness, so it kind of struck people as odd-the idea of this mega-celebrity going door-to-door, in disguise, to talk to locals about Jehovah and to pass out copies of The Watchtower. We didn’t know back then that Witnessing played a huge role in Michael’s faith; it was something he had done for years, even after he was famous, and something he would continue to do for several years thereafter.
I’m sure there were more than a few very surprised Birmingham residents who, after the story broke, were thinking back to that “nice but rather nervous acting, young man with the afro and mustache” who knocked on their door, and thinking, “Was it…could it have been….?” In interviews, Michael always said that one of the things he enjoyed about Witnessing door-to-door was the rare glimpses it gave him into normalcy; an excuse to see how average, ordinary people lived their lives. Usually, his disguises worked well enough, but he said that while it was easy enough to fool the men of the household, the women were much more challenging-and the kids even worse. They would see right through the disguises. “Mommy, it’s Michael Jackson!”
(Note: The original “Alabama News” link I posted with this article in 2010, which detailed some of the stories from the chauffeur who took Michael on that Trussville Witnessing venture, has since disappeared. Among his stories included an incident with a vicious dog, and how he tried to park the limo insconspicously on a residential street while Michael walked on foot throughout the neighborhoods. I am hoping at some point I will be able to track this driver down-he apparently owns a limo rental service in Birmingham-and interview him).
Here is what is apparently the only remnants of that story still available online:
1984: Michael Jackson left Birmingham after concluding rehearsals for his “Victory” tour at the BJCC. He was largely unseen during the time here, save for a balcony appearance and a Sunday morning when Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness at the time, disguised himself and went door-to-door in Trussville for about two hours. He wore a mustache, afro wig, hat and black suit while he handed out materials about his religion. No one knew it was him, until it hit the papers the next day.
I am not quite sure why this outlet reported it as such a lowkey affair, because my memory of that time is certainly quite different. However, I think they mean it was lowkey in the sense that Michael did rarely come out of hiding to show himself during those two weeks. Rather, it was the intrigue; the possibility; the ANTICIPATION of a possible Michael Jackson sighting that fueled most of the local hysteria. Judging by the local media, it was, however, almost a relief when the rehearsals were over and the last vestige of The Jacksons had finally packed up and moved on. The presence of Michael Jackson in a town the size of Birmingham (even if, granted, it IS our largest city) had practically brought the city to a standstill, with traffic jams, crowd control and security issues a constant problem. Although it was an exciting few weeks, I think most of the town’s more conservative citizens (i.e, “the old fogies”) were heaving a big sigh of relief when the madness was over. But oddly enough, in a time when my entire home state of Alabama was caught up in Michaelmania and reporting his every move, his every coming and going, it seems rather bizarre that the most horrific thing that could have possibly happened to him-or to anyone-went unreported and ignored in the media.
In LaToya’s autobiography, she gives a brief but horrific account of how things went down. The incident apparently occurred during one of Michael’s many routine visits to his mother’s relatives in Russell County. During a drive with Bill Bray, an associate who had made the trip with Michael and Katherine, Bray decided to stop for gas and to use the restroom. Michael, who loved nothing better than a chance to browse and putter around in small shops where no one would know who he was, couldn’t resist the temptation to go into the shop next door. When Bray came out of the gas station, he noticed Michael was gone. Then, according to LaToya’s account, he heard this “Help! Help” coming from the shop. He ran inside to find Michael on the floor and a white man standing over him, kicking him viciously in the stomach and head, over and over, while shouting, “I hate all you niggers!”
It took Bray several minutes of struggling to get the guy off of Michael. The incident reportedly left him with several severe cuts and bodily injuries, resulting in a hospital stay. As it turned out, the reputed “cause” of the attack was that, according to the shopowner (the guy who was beating Michael), Michael had put a “candy bar in his pocket.” Bray argued and said that was ridiculous…”He doesn’t steal, and he doesn’t even like candy!” Michael continued to protest his innocence, but the man kept insisting that Michael was trying to steal from him.
Well, actually, I think Bill Bray may have been trying at least in part to cover for his friend-Michael certainly DID love candy-but I highly doubt he was trying to steal; this was Michael Jackson, who had the #1 selling album in the world, why in heck would he need to steal a fifty-cent candy bar! (Though the way he liked to pull pranks, it’s entirely possible he could have been “messing” with the guy as a joke, but if that was the case, it was a prank that backfired on him horribly).
But whatever the case, the fact was that the guy never gave him the benefit of the doubt, and for one reason only-because he was black. Reportedly, the man never even recognized who he was; as LaToya put it, Michael to him was “just another nigger he could abuse.”
So during the time that was supposed to have been a fun and pleasant visit with relatives ended up being, for Michael, a very painful time laid up in an Alabama hospital, being treated for his severe cuts and bruises.
As the story went, Katherine called from Alabama to report what had happened. The family was horrified and outraged; according to LaToya, Jermaine was ready to fly down here and “whoop Alabama ass.” But cooler reasoning prevailed, and instead, a lawsuit was filed against the store owner. However, nothing came of it.
“Two girls standing outside had witnessed the beating, and one offered to testify on Michael’s behalf. We felt very strongly that racial violence must be stopped, but unfortunately, justice did not prevail in this case. The racist harbored no regrets. In fact, discovering that the black man he’d assaulted was a celebrity only inflamed his hatred. Now he threatened tokillMichael. Bill convinced us that this person was mad, that the threat was quite serious, and that it was better for everyone to drop the action. None of us was happy about this, but there was really no choice.”-LaToya Jackson.
As I said before, my big question-since this incident reportedly occurred at or close to the same time as when Michael was here for the Victory tour and rehearsals-was why it was never reported in the local media? Or for that matter, why Michael Jackson being the victim of a racist beating never made it into the news at all (amazing, considering how his every sneeze or fart was usually fodder for the tabloids?). However, given that the lawsuit was dropped out of concern for what action this guy might have taken, perhaps it’s understandable why the incident was kept lowkey. But I also have to wonder if Alabama didn’t feel some sense of shame that something like this could happen to the biggest star in the world right here in our own backyard…and was that part of the reason why it never made it into the papers?
Through the years, it seemed that Michael continued to have bad luck whenever he crossed paths with my home state. A Brazilian chef, Rema Vila Real, who had worked for Michael, and whose talents for healthy dishes was one he keenly appreciated, recalled in an interview the time she was mysteriously but urgently summoned to drop everything she was doing and get on a plane-immediatly.
“… I was living in West Los Angeles in a small apartment when I got a phone call. The person on the phone asked me to look outside. He said: “See the limousine? Get in it, now!” I told him I could not because I was taking care of a person off the street and could not leave him. They said that they would send someone to look after the person right away and for me to get into the car. I told them I had to change my clothes because I all dirty from cleaning. They didn’t care. Finally I agreed when the man arrived to take care of my guest and I was taken to a big building in Beverly Hills and up to the very top penthouse. It was very luxurious.
The man on the other side of the desk handed me a ticket and said ‘you are going to the airport right now. Here is your ticket.” I asked him why. He explained to me that Michael Jackson was having stomach aches and specifically requested me to be his “nutritionist” on the “Thriller” tour. He was feeling sick to his stomach and refused to go on stage until they sent me to be his private cook. They were all very nervous. They said they were losing millions of dollars in canceled shows and I had to go right then.
I told them I could not and could only go in the morning. After a lot of arguing, the agreed to let me go home and they picked me up early in the morning and I was off to BirminghamAlabama…”
So…it looks like the stomach ailment from unhealthy eating that was costing the tour millions reached its crisis point in…where else, Alabama! (Maybe too many stops at those Birmingham barbecue joints, hmmm?).
But it wasn’t all bad. In fact, one of the funniest segments of the special Michael Jackson’s Private Home Movies is when he talks about going “down home” to Alabama, and we see the clip of Michael, his brothers and relatives having a good, old-fashioned hootenanny. Even though bad luck sometimes seemed to dog his steps in Alabama, I think he also enjoyed the bit of anonymity of just getting back to the country, traveling the backroads, shopping at The Salvation Army and being able, for a little while, to just drop the mask of stardom and see how us ol’ regular folks down here live. I can never travel I-65 (Alabama’s main north-south interstate) without thinking how many times Michael and his family must have traveled this road; probably more times than any of us everyday Alabamians will ever know. To this day, I still don’t think most people around here realize the extent of Michael Jackson’s Alabama connection.
But maybe that’s not a bad thing. At least it ensures that tiny Hurtsboro, Alabama and rural County Road 12 in Russell County are not destined to become mega tourist attractions anytime soon. Hopefully, they will remain as pure and untouched as they were in this hilarious clip from a Jackson Alabama road trip in 1979: