Singer, songwriter, actress. Born May 16, 1966, in Gary, Indiana. The youngest of nine children born to Joseph Walter Jackson and his wife, Katherine, Jackson grew up in the affluence of a show business family.
Her five brothers—Jackie, Tito, Marlon, Jermaine, and Michael—signed a contract with Motown Records in 1968 and would go on to rule the charts as The Jackson Five, with such hits as “I Want You Back,” “Stop, the Love You Save,” “ABC,” and “Dancing Machine.”
In late 1969, Jackson took her daughters Rebbie, LaToya, and Janet, and her youngest son, Randy, to join her husband in Los Angeles, where they had moved to further the band’s career. (Tito’s twin brother, Brandon, had died within 24 hours of the twins’ premature birth in 1957.)
The Jackson children were raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, as Katherine Jackson had been baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness in 1963. LaToya Jackson famously chronicled their tumultuous childhood—including charges of physical and sexual abuse by Joseph Jackson—in her tell-all autobiography, but Janet and others of her siblings disputed LaToya’s account. The tensions within the family certainly increased on account of Michael Jackson’s emergence as a solo artist and a superstar beginning in the early 1970s.
Janet Jackson first appeared on stage in April 1974, singing and doing impressions alongside her brother Randy in the Jackson family’s Las Vegas act. In 1976, she appeared on The Jacksons, a summer replacement television show. Her performance earned her the attention of a producer who hired her to play Penny, a regular on the TV comedy series Good Times, from 1977-79. She continued her television work in the short-lived A New Kind of Family (1979-80), the sitcom Different Strokes (1981-2), and the teen drama Fame (1984-5), based at a New York City performing arts high school.
Unlike many of her siblings, Janet Jackson attended public school in Encino, California, for some time before switching to Valley Professional School, from which she graduated in 1984. During her time on Fame, she was able to break away from her family’s supervision while on location in New York. In September 1984, she eloped with James DeBarge, a musician in the group DeBarge, also on the Motown label. Jackson’s family disapproved of DeBarge, and the marriage was brief, as she applied for an annulment in January 1985, which was granted the following November.
With the guidance of her brother Michael, she released her debut album Janet Jackson, in 1982. The album reached No. 84 on the pop charts and had three hit singles, including “Young Love” and “Give Your Love to Me.” The self-titled album sold about 250,000 copies, as did her follow-up, Dream Street, which featured contributions from her brothers Michael, Tito, Jackie, and Marlon.
Jackson scored her first major success in 1986 with Control, released on the A&M label. Control, produced with the writing-producing team of Jimmy Jam (James Harris III) and Terry Lewis, sold eight million copies worldwide and featured two No. 1 singles, “What Have You Done For Me Lately” and the title track. Nominated for three Grammy Awards and nine American Music Awards, it won two of the latter. Jackson”s new, sexier style, stage presence, and dancing ability were all showcased in her videos, and combined to make her a star.
Her next album, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, was a more socially conscious album, also produced by Jam and Lewis, who wrote nearly half the songs. The album spawned a number of hit singles, including “Black Cat” (written by Jackson herself), “Miss You Much,” and “Escapade,” and again sold around eight million copies. Rhythm Nation, which won three American Music Awards, made Jackson the first artist to have seven Top 5 hits from a single album. Jackson embarked on her first tour, in support of the album, in the spring of 1990.
Janet Jackson’s contract with Virgin Records, signed in March 1991, was at the time the largest recording contract in history, at $32 million. (Michael Jackson reportedly held off signing his so-called “billion-dollar” contract until after Janet signed so as not to steal her publicity.)
In the summer of 1993, Jackson unveiled her fifth album, titled Janet as well as her first starring film role, in the drama Poetic Justice, directed by John Singleton, who had received two Oscar nominations for writing and directing his debut feature, Boyz N the Hood. The film received disappointing reviews, but Jackson received an Oscar nomination for “Again,” which she performed on the soundtrack. Janet (another Jam and Lewis collaboration), sold more than six million copies, and featured “Any Time, Any Place,” which became Jackson’s 14th gold single, tying her with Aretha Franklin as the female solo singers with the most gold singles. In addition, “That’s the Way Love Goes” earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rhythm & Blues Song.
Jackson’s sixth album, The Velvet Rope (1997), brought her sexually suggestive style to a whole new level, generating some impressive buzz from critics but did not reach the sales records of her three previous blockbusters. On a more personal level, Jackson made headlines in when it was revealed that she had been secretly married to her manager and longtime boyfriend, Rene Elizondo, for eight years. Jackson announced their separation in 1999, but the fact of their marriage (which Jackson’s sisters LaToya and Rebbie had earlier alleged to the press) became public when Elizondo filed for divorce in May of 2000.
Jackson continued her acting career with a costarring role opposite Eddie Murphy in the blockbuster comedy The Nutty Professor II (summer 2000). A year later, she released another smash hit album, All For You, which like The Velvet Rope was more sexually explicit than her early albums. The success of All For You and her subsequent world tour, along with a reported $80 million recording deal with Virgin, put Janet Jackson squarely back on top of the pop world. As if to confirm her success, Jackson won an American Music Award for favorite female pop/rock artist in January 2002.
Jackson’s star continued to rise until an incident at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2004 caused a slight falter. During a live performance with Justin Timberlake, Jackson’s right breast was exposed during a “costume reveal.” The “wardrobe malfunction” stunt caused an uproar among both fans and the Federal Communications Commission, and Jackson subsequently failed to appear at the Grammy Awards and dropped out of a television project in which she was to play Lena Horne at the elder actress’s request.