Family, Fans Bid Somber Farewell To Michael Jackson

Jackson family

From left, Michael Jackson's sister Janet Jackson, daughter Paris-Michael Katherine, sister LaToya Jackson, brother Jackie Jackson and oldest son Prince Michael I attend a memorial service for the 'King of Pop'. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of Michael Jackson fans joined the Jackson family at Staples Center yesterday in Los Angeles for a star-studded memorial service. The emotional farewell featured reflections and performances from fellow icons Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Usher and longtime Jackson friend Brooke Shields. NPR's Karen Grisby Bates attended the memorial and reflects on the King Of Pop's final send-off.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, as Michael Jackson is laid to rest, we talk more about Jackson's legacy as a cultural icon - how he changed perceptions in music and entertainment. And, we talk to people who are, well, over the whole thing - why some news consumers think it's just too much. That's a little later. But first, the public memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. It drew thousands of fans from all over and some of the world's leading entertainers.

(Soundbite of song, "Soon and Very Soon")

ANDRE CROUCH'S GOSPEL CHOIR: (Singing) No more crying there, we are going to see the King, Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We're going to see the King.

(Soundbite of song, "I'll Be There")

Ms. MARIAH CAREY (Singer): (Singing) I'll be there, I'll be there, just call my name, I'll be there.

(Soundbite of song, "Gone Too Soon")

USHER (Singer): (Singing) Born to amuse, to inspire to delight, here one day, gone one night, oh gone too soon.

MARTIN: The Andre Crouch's Gospel Choir, Mariah Carey, and Usher were just a few of the big names, who celebrated Michael Jackson as millions more around the world watched from their homes and offices.

NPR correspondent Karen Grigsby Bates was on the scene at the memorial and she joins us now. Welcome Karen. Thank you.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: I know you were outside with fans outside the Staples Center. What was the scene like?

BATES: It was crowded in the beginning. It was a really hot, a really sunny day. There wasn't a lot of shade, but people just queued up and they waited patiently. These were people who had not been lucky enough to get tickets to get into the actual venue. They knew they weren't going to get in. There was by earlier agreement with the police department, no broadcasting of this on the JumboTrons that were outside the Staples.

And I did hear one guy grumble: they're not going to either put it up on monitors. But they didn't do that because they didn't want to draw huge crowds downtown when they couldn't accommodate them. So people knew they weren't going to get in, but as a few - or more than a few - of them told me, we're standing here, kind of individual and in tribute, because who knows, you know, the Jackson family might come this way when they come out and we want them to know we cared about Michael.

MARTIN: You know, many people were concerned - there was some chatter on talk radio and a lot of the coverage leading up to the event, that this whole thing would turn into a circus, if you will, but on watching it on television it took a very reverent tone and I'm wondering if that tone extended to the atmosphere outside the Staples Center. You just told us that there was an effort made to kind of tamp down the atmosphere outside, not to draw so many people. But was there that same tone outside?

GATES: It was very respectful, very calm. There wasn't a lot of hooting and -every now and then somebody would sing a snatch of a Michael Jackson song. There was a saxophonist there, who was sort of going through a roll call of his greatest hits, and there was applause, you know, enthusiastic applause after that. When the caravan of celebrities were being dropped off at the VIP entrance came by, there was recognition for P. Diddy, and Don King, and some other people that came through. But in general, people were just kind of quiet talking amongst themselves. They knew that a sort of funeral service was going on. There was some debate as to whether it was funeral or memorial, because a casket was there, and usually at a memorial service the body isn't present, but they really felt like this was time for his family, for the fans who were inside, for his friends in the business, who had come to see him off one more time.

And they acted that way. And in fact, a lot of people were actually dressed as if they were going to a funeral.

MARTIN: And I wanted to mention one of the, a couple of moments that definitely had people talking. One was when the Reverend Al Sharpton addressed Michael's family directly, particularly his children, and this is what he had to say.

Reverend AL SHARPTON (American Baptist Minister, Civil Rights Activist): I want his three children to know there's nothing strange about your daddy. It was strange, which your daddy had to deal with.

(Soundbite of applause)

Rev. SHARPTON: But he dealt with it…

(Soundbite of applause)

Rev. SHARPTON: …he dealt with it any way. He dealt with it for us.

MARTIN: And I think there was a tone of, in a way, defiant defending of his legacy, of his reputation. Karen, was there a sense of that outside as well that many people wanted to come in a way to sort of respond to some of the negative aspects of what was being discussed about Michael Jackson?

BATES: Well, in fact, one lady said to me, you know, if you didn't know Michael Jackson before - I was talking to people as they came out of the ceremony - she says you didn't know Michael Jackson before this was a really good thing to have been to, because if you didn't know him before you only knew him through the eyes of the media that basically focused a lot on the things that he had done that were questionable.

And that's not only who he was? We're not saying he was an angel, but that's not only who he was. There was a lot more to him and you really got to see the alpha and the omega of him in this ceremony through the people that knew him. A lot of people talked about Sharpton. A lot of people came out and said, you know, we thought one of the most profound parts of this whole experience was when he talked directly to those children. It wasn't to us, it wasn't to anybody beyond us, it was saying to these kids: look, your daddy was a really good man. We want you to remember him in this way, not in the way others might chose to see him, and they found that comforting.

MARTIN: We'll talk more in a few minutes with our next group of guests about that Michael Jackson's moving appearance by his daughter. But Karen, we want to thank you. Karen Grigsby Bates is an NPR correspondent. She joined us from her home office in Los Angeles. She was at the memorial service yesterday at the Staples Center. Karen, thank you.

BATES: You're welcome.

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