Two years after death, Gary still celebrates Michael Jackson’s career

June 24, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Kelechukwu Brnfre plans to celebrate in front of Michael Jackson's boyhood home in Gary, Indiana.

Pop star Michael Jackson spent just five years of his life in Gary, Indiana, but two years after his death the town is still celebrating his entire career.

Performers, vendors and fans are likely to be on hand Saturday at Jackson's boyhood home: a white, one-story house at 23rd and Jackson. A monument on the front lawn proudly marks the spot. 

One person who’s eager to show his support is Kelechukwu Brnfre, who heads a performing arts troupe in Gary called Beautiful Soul.

“We base our work on the creativity of Michael Jackson and on the hard work ethic of all the (steel) mill people here,” Brnfre told WBEZ earlier this week. Brnfre says he’s heard all the talk about Gary’s plans to memorialize Michael, including the creation of a Jackson museum. The plans were discussed as late as last year, when Mayor Rudy Clay and Michael Jackson’s father, Joseph, touted the creation of a $300 million complex to commemorate the life and times of the entire Jackson clan. But the effort’s fallen flat, leading one city official to call it “all but dead.”

Still, Brnfre says Gary should celebrate. “Right now, we have the house. You have a historical route where you can put different places where he actually performed. We have a lot of things tangibly that we can work with on the interim of waiting on something big like that,” Brnfre said. “The people don’t really need anything huge to celebrate him. We’ve always celebrated him no matter what.”

Brnfre’s troupe will show their moves outside the house Saturday afternoon. The event is expected to include food, T-shirt vendors and music. “The world can expect a ‘Tribute to Michael’ every year in June in Gary, Indiana,” Mayor Clay stated in a press release. “The world is invited.”

Michael Jackson died in his California home at the age of 50, in an apparent accidental overdose of sleep medication.