The Jackson 5 was one of few in recording history to have their first four major label singles ("I Want You Back", "ABC", "The Love You Save", and "I'll Be There") reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Several later singles, among them "Mama's Pearl", "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Dancing Machine", were Top 5 pop hits and number-one hits on the R&B singles chart. Most of the early hits were written and produced by a specialized songwriting team known as "The Corporation"; later Jackson 5 hits were crafted chiefly by Hal Davis, while early Jacksons hits were compiled by the team of Gamble and Huff before The Jacksons began writing and producing themselves in the late 1970s.
Significantly, they were one of the first black teen idols to appeal equally to white audiences, thanks partially to the successful promotional relations skills of Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy. With their departure from Motown to CBS in 1976, The Jacksons were forced to change their name and Jermaine was replaced with younger brother Randy as Jermaine chose to stay at Motown. During these years, they continued to have a number of hits such as "Enjoy Yourself", "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)", "Show You the Way to Go", and "Blame It on the Boogie". After two years under the Philadelphia International Records label, they signed with Epic Records and asserted control of their songwriting, production, and image, and their success continued into the 1980s with hits such as "Can You Feel It", "This Place Hotel", "Lovely One", and "State of Shock". Their 1989 album 2300 Jackson Street was recorded without Michael and Marlon, although they did appear on the title track. The disappointing sales of the album led to the group being dropped by their record label at the end of the year. The group has never formally broken up, but has been dormant since then, although all six brothers performed together at two Michael Jackson tribute concerts in September 2001. After Michael's death in June 2009, the group announced a 2012 reunion tour, The Unity Tour, although Randy did not take part.
Tito recalled playing around with his father's guitar while he was away working on Gary's steel mills. One night, Joseph discovered Tito had been playing his guitar after a string was broken. Initially upset with his son's playing behind his back, he saw their potential. Around 1964, the Jacksons' aunt Wanda, who was a successful professional musician, encouraged Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine to form a band. The Jackson Brothers originally included hometown friends Muffy Jones and Milford Tonna on guitar and drums respectively. By the end of the following year, the group's younger brothers Marlon and Michael joined the instrumental band playing tambourine and congas respectively.
Showing extraordinary talent at a very young age, young Michael began demonstrating his dance moves and singing ability at the age of five. Michael's moving rendition of "Climb Every Mountain" sang at his kindergarten talent show earned him a place in his brothers' group. Before his eighth birthday, Michael was allowed to perform his song-and-dance routine at a talent contest held at Jackie's Roosevelt High School in Gary, helping his brothers win the competition. It was at that point that Tito's junior high school orchestra teacher Shirley Cartman began mentoring the group. She suggested replacing Jones and Hite with talented musicians Johnny Jackson (no relation) on drums and Ronnie Rancifer on keyboards. Tito moved up to lead guitar while Jermaine played bass guitar after several years as a rhythm guitarist.
Evelyn Lahaie, a local talent agent, suggested to Joe to rename the group the Jackson 5 when they performed in her Tiny Tots Jamboree in Gary. After the contest win, the group began playing professional gigs in Indiana, Chicago and across the U.S. Many of these performances were in a string of black clubs and venues collectively known as the "chitlin' circuit". The group also found themselves performing at strip joints to earn money. Cartman got the Jackson 5 a record deal with Gordon Keith's local Steeltown label, and the group began making their first recordings in October 1967. Their first single, "Big Boy", was released in January 1968 and became a regional hit. This was followed by a second single, "We Don't Have to Be Over 21".
The Jackson 5 had a number of admirers in their early days, including Sam & Dave, who helped the group secure a spot in the famous Amateur Night competition at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The group won the August 13, 1967, competition during the Amateur Night showdown at the Apollo, impressing Motown Records artist Gladys Knight. Knight recommended the group to Motown chief Berry Gordy, but Gordy, who already had teenager Stevie Wonder on his roster, was hesitant to take on another child act because of the child labor laws and other problems involved. The Jackson 5's sound was influenced by many of the biggest stars of the 1960s, including the self-contained funk bands Sly & the Family Stone and The Isley Brothers, Motown group The Temptations, soul legend Marvin Gaye, rock 'n' roll kid group The Teenagers and soul shouters like Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, Joe Tex and James Brown. At the time of their early success, R&B stars, especially coming from Motown Records, were among the most popular musicians; Motown had launched the careers of dozens of the decade's biggest stars, most notably The Supremes, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and the Temptations.