Jackson’s legacy will live on in minds of locals

Published 3:32 pm Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NATCHEZ — When Natchez Resident Jennifer Ogden Combs met Michael Jackson years ago, he wasn’t exactly as she expected him to be.

“Michael was actually quite shy,” Combs said. “I would talk to him when I went to visit Gary’s set, and he was a very warm soul.”

Combs’s ex-husband, Gary Muller, was a cameraman on the set of “The Wiz,” a musical based on the “Wizard of Oz,” in which Jackson played the scarecrow.

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With over four decades of radio and music video hits before his death last week, Michael Jackson had an impact on many lives, including Miss-Lou residents who never met the icon.

Many in the area will miss his unique talents and contributions to the music industry.

“He is the one that got me started with music and dancing.” Fayette resident Norvell Davis said. “I danced to ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean’ at some high school dances, and he is a great loss.”

Chris Dunbar of Natchez was in the mall when he found out Jackson had passed.

“I got like 500 text messages, one after another, saying that he was dead,” Dunbar said. “It is sad because he gave us good music to listen to.”

Former Natchez High Choir Director, Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis used Jackson’s popularity among young males to help inspire them.

“The young men emulated him as much as they could. They would wear a glove and try to have a white sock showing,” Arceneaux-Mathis said. “They just loved him so much.”

As a choir director, she used Jackson’s music to help get teenage boys comfortable in the higher parts of their vocal range.

“I wanted my men to sing more than in the bass range, and he helped me convince them that a tenor voice sounded great,” Mathis said.

She also used Jackson’s music as a teaching tool.

“It was fun for the students to listen to his music,” Mathis said. “So it was a fun way to get them to learn more about music, with questions like, ‘What do the lyrics really mean?’”

Voice instructors Mathis and Sylvia Johns Ritchie both agree that he was a pioneer to his industry.

“Before Jackson came along, you had black music, and you had white music,” Ritchie said. “He bridged the chasm between black and white and created a new category of music that everyone liked.”

His involvement with the music video format helped jump start a new way to view music.

“Before this era, you could maybe see a band performing on the Ed Sullivan Show,” Mathis said. “Videos, which Jackson played a big role in with Thriller, provided musicians a new avenue for getting their music across.”

Former television producer, Ogden saw Jackson as a world icon, not just a megastar.

“When I went to teach at the Taiwan University of the Arts, these kids wanted to know what Michael Jackson was like,” Ogden said. “They wanted to know if I was in New York when he filmed ‘Thriller.’”

Jackson was scheduled to start a World Tour in London on July 8.

“He has had an impact on both the young, old, and had no national borders for his talent,” Ogden said. “People around the world were excited about his upcoming tour. It is sad to lose him so young, people are still making sense of it.”

According to Ritchie, he wasn’t just great around the world, he was great here, locally.

“We played music from Jackson’s album ‘Thriller’ at the Monterey High School Homecoming,” Ritchie said. “The kids had a blast dancing to it. He will be really missed.”

Natchez resident Dorothy Hounds, a retired teacher, said that Jackson’s music affected her both mentally and physically.

“His music was very heart-filling,” Hounds said. “He taught me with songs like ‘Black and White,’ and as a dancer, moved me with songs like ‘Thriller.’”

Tiesha White nodded with a saddened smile.

“‘Man in the Mirror’ was a song that helped me learn about charity,” Vidalia resident White said. “It taught me to help others instead of myself.”

“Man in the Mirror” is a song in which Jackson looks himself in the mirror, and asks himself to change so that he can make the world a better place. It was written by Natchez native Glen Ballard.

“In his last days people had put him through so much and had trashed his name so badly,” White said. “It is sad for him to die a tragic death, like he did, and never get to clear his name.”

“I wish he was still around to see how much people love his music,” Ritchie said. “Jackson will be as popular in death as he was in life.”