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Article: The Story Behind the Photo: The Jackson 5 on the Beach, 1969

Behind the Photo

The Story Behind the Photo: The Jackson 5 on the Beach, 1969

Behind every photo, there is a story . . . Today, acclaimed photojournalist, director and screenwriter Lawrence Schiller shares how this famous 1969 Jackson 5 photo came to be. Read on to see how it all started with a little help from one of their friends, Diana Ross.


© Polaris Communications, Inc. All rights reserved. Photo by Lawrence Schiller

In Lawrence’s own words: dianaross (2)The New York Times had given me an assignment to photograph Diana Ross and Motown Records, and one day when I was shooting Diana in Central Park, she said to me, “You should also photograph a new music group that I discovered.” And I said, “I didn’t know you were discovering music groups.” Diana replied, “Somebody discovered me and I’m doing the same . . . the group's name is the Jackson 5.” The Jackson 5 didn’t mean anything to me . . . Jackson 5, people, 5 kids, whatever. So I asked the president and owner of Motown, Barry Gordon Sr., to arrange for me to photograph them. Diana had also mentioned the group was coming to California, where I lived, to make an album. Back home, one afternoon I got a phone call from one of Barry Gordy’s sisters who said, “The Jackson 5 are in Los Angeles, where would you like to photograph them?” “Well, have they been to California before?” I asked. “Nope, they have never even seen the Pacific Ocean . . .” she replied. What ran through my mind was that I should be there as they had the experience of seeing the Pacific for the first time. So she arranged for them to meet me near the Santa Monica pier . . . and next thing I know a group of kids drive up in a big Mercedes. They had a chauffeur and everything they might want.  But what hit me the most . . . sitting in the back seat of the limo, one of the boys looked so small.  And that was when I was introduced to Michael, by one of his brothers. schiller2 (3) I suggested we move down to Malibu, where there would be more privacy. . . I didn’t have really anything in mind of what I wanted to do. When we arrived near the Malibu Pier, they just all jumped out of their car and headed toward the water.  But Michael ran to the trunk their car and pulled out a ghetto blaster. . . . “Are we going to listen to some of your music?” I asked. Michael replied before I even finished my sentence. “We always carry our music with us . . .” When I looked back toward the rest of the brothers, they were already down on the beach looking at the water. That was when I started taking some pictures of them with their feet in the water. Later I would later discover they had actually never seen an ocean before. Before I knew it, Michael had the ghetto blaster going as his brothers began to dance to their own music on the beach.  It’s sad I don’t remember what song it was. . . . They were still shy in a way, but the minute the music played they came alive. Michael Jackson was like a balloon filled with helium. He just took off to the sky. He became an entirely different person . . . you could just see the beginning of his insecurity. But when the music came, he just exploded. There is no question that the Michael’s brothers were already playing second fiddle to him, and they had to accept the fact that his innocence and talent was what was driving the group.  But still, Michael, as I remember him that day, was just an innocent little kid dancing to the beat of his own music.  

For the full interview, click sound file below!


Learn more about Lawrence Schiller and see his iconic photographs at


And hear our Lullaby Renditions of Michael Jackson by clicking the album cover below.



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