Updated 7/7/09 6:30 p.m.
Despite one minor snag, Michael Jackson’s memorial was a ceremony truly fit for a king.
Smokey Robinson opened the service by reading a letter of condolence from Nelson Mandela to all 20,000 mourners at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. There was long break after the reading because of an unspecified audio issue at the arena.
Once the venue staff fixed the problem, Michael’s casket was brought out before the stage, and a gospel choir sang “We Are Going To See The King.” There was a brief introduction to the service by Pastor Lucious Smith.
“First and foremost this man before us today was our brother, our son, our father and our friend,” he said. “Our hearts are heavy today because [this man] is gone too soon. But as long as we remember our time with him, the truth is, he is never really gone at all.”
Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz had the distinct honor of doing the first tribute song of the memorial when they performed the Jackson 5 classic “I’ll Be There.“
Queen Latifah came out to speak on behalf of Michael’s fans around the world. She remembered that “Dancing Machine” was the first record that she ever bought, and that she and her brother tried to break it down by doing The Robot like the Jackson 5. Even though they never quite got their pop and lock game together, Latifah said that she was still inspired by Michael.
“Somehow when Michael Jackson sang and when he danced you never felt distant,” she said. “You felt like he was right there for us. …I loved him all my life.”
Latifah continued to speak on what Michael meant to everyone, but perhaps her thoughts were most eloquently summed up by Maya Angelou, who wrote a poem called “We Had Him.”
Later Motown founder Berry Gordy came out to speak about his memories of Michael, who was “like a son” to him. He told everyone what it was like to spend time with Michael and the Jacksons both personally and professionally.
“Michael had a quality that I couldn’t completely understand, but we all knew that he was special,” Berry said. "The more I think and talk about Michael Jackson, I feel the King of Pop is not big enough for him. I think he is simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived."
Part of his legacy as such was The Moonwalk, which he unveiled at Motown’s 25th Anniversary Show.
“From the first beat of ‘Billie Jean’ and the toss of that hat, I was mesmerized. But when he did his iconic Moonwalk, I was shocked. It was magic,” Berry told the audience. “Michael Jackson went into orbit and never came down.”
But one of the things Berry said that was most memorable was the fact he thought Michael actually sung “Who’s Loving You” better than Smokey. Of course, Smokey had to have has his say on that.
Many of the speakers tried to keep things light-hearted at today’s memorial. Magic Johnson recalled going to Michael’s house one day; when they got hungry, Magic requested grilled chicken, but he recalled his shock to see that the chef brought Michael a bucket of KFC.
“That made my day. That was the greatest moment of my life. We had such a good time sitting on the floor, eating that bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Magic laughed.
Still, other speeches were a bit more somber. Brooke Shields stood before the crowd gathered at the Staples Center and told people about her close and endearing friendship with Michael. Many people listening to her memories of the pop star were so touched that they were moved to tears.
And if Brooke’s words left a dry eye in the building, Jermaine Jackson’s performance of “Smile” might have gotten a few more people to reach for a tissue.
That wasn’t the last time that Jermaine took the stage, either. At the end of the memorial, Michael’s family joined a performance of “Heal The World.” That rendition would have been part of his shows at the O2 Arena in London, and it featured a cast of other performers from different races, including young children.
After the song, the Jackson family stayed on stage to give thanks for all the love and support they’ve received. But, it was particularly heart-breaking for us to see Michael’s daughter Paris step up to the microphone and publically say good-bye to her father.
Michael was much more than a performer, and S2S continues to offer our condolences and prayers to his family during this difficult time.
– Sonya Eskridge