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‘King of Pop’s Gary roots draw visitors from Spain

LaurSerrano Angelo Ferndes Toni Arias SarHerranz Rodrigo Garcifounders Spanish Internet-based Michael Jacksfan club traveled recently Gary speak with GordKeith (second

Laura Serrano, Angelo Ferndes, Toni Arias, Sara Herranz and Rodrigo Garcia, founders of a Spanish Internet-based Michael Jackson fan club, traveled recently to Gary to speak with Gordon Keith (second from right) about his role in discovering Jackson when Keith was with Steeltown Records. | Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen/For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 10, 2014 6:10AM



GARY — A group traveling from Madrid, Spain, to trace the history of the “King of Pop” made a stop in Gary earlier this week.

Laura Serrano, Toni Arias, Sara Herranz, Angelo Ferndes and Rodrigo Garcia are the founders of an Internet-based Michael Jackson fan club that has 37,000 followers. The Spanish website is www.mjhideout.com.

Arias displayed photos of his 861-square-foot, at-home museum of Jackson memorabilia.

The group is on a 30-day, nationwide tour to discover hidden details and facts about Jackson’s legacy.

“When we were at the Motown Museum in Detroit, everybody told us Gary is a terrible and unsafe (place),” Arias said. “But we had to come.”

Serrano explained how the group aims to study every chapter of Jackson’s life in order to fully understand the history.

During their research, they stumbled upon an unfinished documentary produced by Kenneth Joseph, of Pretty Boy Films, Inc. The documentary led the group to 1025 Taney St. in Gary, the home where the Jacksons rehearsed with Steeltown Records, which was founded by Gordon Keith, of Gary.

Ben Brown, Maurice Rogers, Willie Spencer and Ludie Washington were Keith’s partners, and Steeltown was the first record label to sign the Jackson 5, according to news articles, contracts and vinyl albums provided by Keith, who is among those who can claim they helped discover Michael Jackson.

“A lot of local groups had talents in the 1960s, but no discipline,” Keith said. “I saw the Jackson brothers on posters for talents shows and wanted to meet them.”

Gary school music teacher Shirley Cartman made the connection between the Jacksons and Keith.

According to Keith, in November 1967, the Jacksons auditioned and signed a contract. In January 1968, Sony Sawyers Studio in Chicago released Steeltown Records’ debut single of the Jackson 5’s “Big Boy,” with a B side song, “You’ve Changed.”

Keith still has a distribution contract signed by late Atlantic Recording Corp. president Gerald “Jerry” Wexler. According to Keith, the album was circulated in more than 10 states and sold more 60,000 copies.

After an appearance at the Apollo in New York in 1968, the Jacksons signed with Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, despite their contract with Steeltown Records, Keith contends. He said he was double-crossed and blacklisted, and he for years has been contemplating a lawsuit.

Witnesses shared stories with the visitors from Spain about how the Jacksons’ career started in Gary with Steeltown Records, not with Motown. Meanwhile, Arias and fan club volunteers plan to tell an accurate story of Michael Jackson’s legacy, from beginning to end.



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