Michael Jackson

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Michael Jackson was an artist who transcended fame and stardom and sat firmly in the realm of an icon. It's possible we may never see a star of his proportions again. After an announcement of Jackson's death, the Internet exploded. Twitter feeds doubled, Facebook status updates tripled, and the LA Times website, one of the first to break the story, nearly caved from the activity.

His musical legacy lives on stronger than ever. Following his death, Jackson became the first artist to sell a million downloads in one week. On iTunes, he captured as many as seven of the top 10 selling album spots. On the radio, his songs were played 1700% more. And Billboard Magazine announced that nine of the Top Ten Catalog album sales are Michael Jackson records, with combined sales of over 450,000 copies. Doubters that this man was the king of Pop – wake up.

Like millions around the world, I was very sad to hear of his passing I grew up listening to The Jackson Five. Michael Jackson and I are the same age, and the Jackson Five's first hit single, “I Want You Back” went to number one when I was 12, in 1970.

At the time I was a white sixth grader at Overland Avenue Elementary in West LA. African-American kids from other neighborhoods were bussed into school for racial integration. It was only five years after the Watts race riots. In my class, there were two African-American girls. I became friendly with one of them and for her 12th birthday, I was invited to her house for a slumber party celebration. On the appointed Friday evening, I arrived at her home in the Crenshaw District. I was one of two white girls there.

The twelve of us spent most of the night dancing to “I Want You Back”, played on a portable record player over and over. We lined up in two parallel lines and each of us was given a chance to strut our stuff, down the middle aisle with our best dance moves. To most of the girls there, I imagine this was an ordinary Friday night. But to me, it was transformational. It was the first time I felt completely accepted by my peers. I've never forgotten that evening and the gift I was given.

Michael Jackson was never short on giving. In 1983, when the record business was reeling from five continuous years of declining sales, Jackson single-handedly revived it. His album, Thriller sold over 100 million copies, becoming the biggest selling album of all time.

His genius wasn't only writing, or composing, or interpreting, or dancing – he could put the whole package together and make it feel effortless. In doing so, he liberated the youthful exuberance that lies within all of us. True artistry transform our vision of who we are into who we truly can become.

While much of the press may feed on the bones of his legacy for headlines, let us not forget the difference between judging the artist and judging the artist's work. Now is the time to embrace the Michael Jackson inside all of us.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.