There was speculation that Janet Jackson wouldn’t make it to Essence Fest this year. Her father, Joe Jackson, died on June 27th. No one knew if Janet’s grief would make it to headline one of the biggest music festivals in the world.
Apparently, Janet didn’t know either. She did end up at Essence Fest and slayed her performances as per usual but in an emotional speech to the crowd, Janet explained how she was able to get up on stage and be JANET JACKSON days after losing a parent, specifically the parent responsible for her career.
"I didn't know how to move forward, if I should cancel this festival or the entire tour... My father was a great man… I think my father would have said, 'Janet, please. Finish what you've started, and I will be there with you every step of the way in your heart.' So here I am."
However you feel about Joe Jackson, there is no denying that his – ahem – methods are the reason why The Jackson 5, Janet and Michael became the most influential artists in pop history. Janet and Joe’s relationship had been complicated over the years but in the recent years before his death, they were on good terms. When Joe was in the hospital in 2014, Janet was just one of two people to visit him.
Last month, I wrote about Janet’s open letter in the latest issue of ESSENCE. In it, she referred to her ongoing struggle to find happiness.
“Low self-esteem might be rooted in childhood feelings of inferiority. It could relate to failing to meet impossibly high standards.”
It’s hard not to equate those “feelings of inferiority” to the stories floating around for years about how hard Joe was on his kids – that he was verbally abusive and demanded greatness at any cost. Joe may not have been the parent you would wish on any child but if he wasn’t the way he was, would Janet Jackson be headlining Essence Fest at 52, still able to destroy some of the greatest choreography ever created?
Maybe the answer is yes. Maybe Joe’s methods only made Janet more insecure, riddled with self-doubt that stayed with her throughout adulthood. But if you ask Janet, she’d say that his methods are exactly why she and her brothers were successful. They were up against impossible odds and it was Joe’s vision that enabled them to break through all the bullsh-t and bulldoze a pathway that artists after them have been able to follow.
“Without his drive, his strength, we wouldn’t have this success. We’re a black family that came from Gary, Indiana, and we broke all kinds of records all over the globe. That’s truth.”
After this tribute, PEOPLE reports that Janet pointed to the sky and dedicated “Together Again” to her father while images of him were projected on a screen. I wonder if this dedication will continue through the rest of her State of the World Tour which picks up again on July 11th.
I’ve seen the tour and it’s incredible. If you haven’t yet, find a way to get to one the remaining dates. What Janet did at Essence Fest this weekend is just a taste of the greatness.
Here’s Janet’s speech for her father in full.