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Jackson family homecoming: Gary, Indiana’s beloved icons return to tout new Hard Rock Casino, give back to youths

Three of the original Jackson 5 swept into town for a two-day visit to Chicago and their hometown of Gary, Indiana.

Three of the original Jackson 5 swept into town for a two-day visit to Chicago and Gary, Indiana, this week for the groundbreaking of a new Hard Rock Casino expected to bring much-needed economic development to their economically depressed hometown of Gary.

Jackie, Tito and Marlon spent a whirlwind Wednesday visiting “Windy City Live” in Chicago’s Loop, as well as a Gary high school, West Side Leadership Academy, and the John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club.

On Thursday, the brothers headlined the groundbreaking of the planned $400 million Hard Rock Casino Northwest Indiana, which will play repository to memorabilia of Gary’s most famous family, while bringing 2,000 jobs. It will replace Gary’s two Majestic Star Casino boats currently owned by Spectacle Entertainment, partners in the new casino.

Logo for the Chicago Chronicles

The Jackson brothers told the Chicago Sun-Times the visit was a trip down memory lane, recollections of their childhood growing up at 2300 Jackson St. in Gary flooding back as soon as they neared the town of some 75,000 residents, where a third live in poverty.

“It feels great to be back home,” Jackie Jackson, 68, said in a Chicago Sun-Times interview with the three brothers Wednesday evening at the Boys & Girls Club. “I started remembering all the talent shows we did when we were little kids, on stage at Roosevelt High School. Also started thinking of all our friends we grew up with — just things that you don’t forget.”

“For me, it was just seeing the neighborhood, the old house, remembering the sidewalks I used to travel,” said Marlon Jackson, 62. “Coming home just brings back a lot of memories.”

The Jackson 5, of course, became show-business icons after moving to Los Angeles, introduced by Diana Ross to the world as Motown’s newest musical act in August 1969. The group initially comprised Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael, who died from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol on June 25, 2009.

The group’s first-ever TV appearance would be on the “Hollywood Palace” variety show with Ross and Sammy Davis Jr., their green costumes from that night — sewn by matriarch Katherine Jackson — found today at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in downtown Chicago. It’s among artifacts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “Stay Tuned: Rock on TV” traveling exhibit running through April.

Ten-year-olds Lailah Johnson (center) and Courmya Davis (right), with two of the original members of The Jackson 5, Marlon Jackson (left) and Tito Jackson, at the John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club in Gary. The two, along with brother Jackie Jackson, donated 170 bicycles to youths in a visit to the club Wednesday night.
Photo by Karen Kring

By the ’70s, the group was among the world’s most famous musicians, earning their own TV variety show, “The Jacksons.” Their visit to Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Co. for the iconic Ebony cover featuring the entire Jackson family in December 1974 remains the stuff of lore.

The brothers had fond memories of Chicago, including performing at the High Chaparral nightclub and The Regal Theater as youths. Michael Jackson of course went solo in the ’70s, and the group’s last album came in 1989.

The Ebony magazine cover featuring the entire Jackson family in December 1974 remains the stuff of lore.

Looking back, said the three, they had no idea their music would enjoy such longevity and lead to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in August 1997.

“We were making music for kids our age, because we were young kids,” Marlon Jackson said said in his visit to Windy City Live at ABC’s Downtown Chicago studios. “But what happened is that the adults loved it too. It was family-oriented music, and you just do not have that as much today. We never knew that it was going to reach the world. We just enjoyed performing and doing music.”

At the high school, they were treated to performances by students in the arts. At the Boys & Girls Club, they donated their appearance fee to provide 170 bicycles to youths, which filled a gym that became bedlam as children rushed to claim bikes with their names on them.

Jackie Jackson, eldest member of the original Jackson 5, helps a youth find a bicycle with his name on it. He and brothers Marlon Jackson and Tito Jackson visited the John Will Anderson Boys & Girls Club in their hometown of Gary, Indiana, donating 170 bicycles to youths there Wednesday night.
Photo by Karen Kring

“To see the smiles on their faces is amazing. It’s joyful to help them when they couldn’t find their bikes and see the excitement when we did find it,” said Tito Jackson, who recently released his first solo album, “Tito Time!” It’s brought him his first solo hit on the Billboard charts at age 66, making him the ninth and final Jackson to chart a solo single.

The brothers also got $61,000 donated to the club by Walmart, Hard Rock and Spectacle, whose plans call for a Jackson family museum and restaurant at the casino.

A rendering of the Hard Rock Casino planned for Gary, Indiana.
A rendering of the Hard Rock Casino planned for Gary, Indiana.
Majestic Star Casino

As for the struggles of their hometown, where nearly half the population is unemployed and crime has escalated, the brothers, just off a tour in Denmark, said they envision change for Gary and hope to spark that through their partnership with the new casino, which will include a Hard Rock brand café and hotel, live concert venue and other amenities on 30 acres. It’s expected to open in 2022.

“It all starts with one step at a time,” said Tito Jackson. “Gary was known before as a great city when we were growing up here. Everything was blooming and on the up and up. We’d like to see that come back and plan to do our part to make it a better place for the youth.”

“This is where we’re from. It’s a place we’ll never forget,” Jackie Jackson added. “We made it, so we are supposed to give back to our city and help rebuild our city. That’s what we’re doing right now. That’s what we plan to continue doing.”

Three of the original Jackson 5 brothers, Jackie, Tito and Marlon Jackson — in a two-day visit to Chicago and their hometown of Gary, Indiana — stopped by for a taping at the downtown Chicago studio of “Windy City Live.”
Maudlyne Ihejirika/Sun-Times