Jackson Was A Study In Black And White

2007/3/9 Michael Jackson headshot, singer, Tokyo, Japan,

Call him a study in black and white.

Michael Jackson was a study in contrasts - a black performer beloved by white Americans, but one who later seemed to erase his blackness, as CBS News correspondent Priya David reports.

Jackson started performing at a conflicted time. At 10 years old, in 1968, young Jackson was auditioning for big shows, just four years after the nation passed the Civil Rights Act and legally ended segregation.

Vibe Magazine's Danyel Smith calls Jackson the first black musician to truly cross over into the mainstream.

"People forget that there weren't always African Americans on television and there weren't a zillion black athletes and black doctors and lawyers and teachers," Smith said. "Michael kicked down that door. He kicked down that door."

Jackson moved from his R&B roots to pop music, and in 1983, he became the first black artist to appear on fledgling MTV with his blockbuster song "Billie Jean."

"It really broke down the barrier and it proved that music fans don't necessarily think in these kind of black-and-white terms - especially when there's music that's so compelling and so great, that they didn't care," said Rolling Stone's Micheal Endelman. "They loved Michael Jackson. It didn't matter what race he was."

But race continued to matter to Jackson as he grew into his title as King of Pop.

In 1991, he came out with "Black or White" - the clearest expression of his philosophy on race, singing, "I'm not going to spend my life being a color."

"He was mostly trying to transcend race and, in his own case, un-define race," said Bill Bottrell, who co-produced "Black or White."

But Jackson's message about race, and his own racial identity, came from as much from his appearance as his music.

A video on YouTube shows the changes in his appearance from childhood to adulthood. Jackson attributed the lightening of his skin to a disease called vitiligo. But some felt Jackson was denying his black identity.

"Sometimes people would think because of the changes in Michael's hair, and his skin tone, and his facial features that he wasn't proud of who he was, of what he was born as," Smith said. "He struggled with it openly and in a way that was painful for many African Americans to watch."

Jackson played out those struggles on a global stage. But his legacy is that fans from every nation remember the magic of his music more than the color of the man.