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THIS IS IT: Band discusses its final days with Michael Jackson

December 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Cover Story, Feature

By Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

"This Is It" band members (L-R standing) Jonathan "Sugarfoot" Moffett, Tommy Organ, Orianthi Panagaris, Mo Pleasure, Michael Bearden, Darryl Phinnessee, Judith Hill, Alex Al, (L-R seated) Dorian Holley, Ken Stacey and Bashiri Johnson.

In a print exclusive, Black Image has obtained the final photo shoot of Michael Jackson’s “This Is It” band, completed in the days leading up to the superstar musician’s June 25 death. Accompanying the images is an interview with renowned keyboardist Mo Pleasure, who offers an inside look at the making of a production that could never be fully realized.

Black Image: What was the experience like, being part of Michael Jackson’s finale, “This Is It” — the concert production and the movie?
Pleasure: It was an honor and a tremendous experience. The movie brought back so many emotions in so many different ways. The first time I saw the movie, it was like seeing family again — because the band, dancers and crew were all there at the movie premiere. I laughed and I cried, and cried some more. They did a great job with the movie.

What was it like being in such a big concert production — with so many months of rehearsing — and not being able to show it to the world?

Keyboardist Mo Pleasure

It was devastating. I played at Michael’s memorial service, and it was extremely hard. I have such a wide range of emotions. There have been other scheduled tributes to Michael that never happened and a lot of other disappointments. There have been more disappointments than (just) the one that happened on June 25. So many disappointments that affect the way I feed my family. There are a lot of things, but I am so happy that there is a movie that actually caught us doing what we do. It got to the point where we forgot that the cameras were there.

Why were the concert rehearsals being recorded?
From my understanding, it was something that Michael requested for whatever reason he had. Possibly for a documentary called “The Making of the This Is It Tour” — I really don’t know. But, whatever the reason was, Michael went into a partnership agreement with AEG Productions. AEG decided to do the movie, with the consent of the family, (using) the rehearsal footage.

In the movie, Michael laughed at a comment about “booty” made by musical director Michael Bearden. What was that about?
Well, “booty” is what we refer to in music as the lower end, or the bottom end, of the kick drum or bass. Musicians might say, “Put some booty on it.” Obviously, Michael had never heard that term before, and started laughing.

Michael Bearden

Michael also made comments in the movie about the sound hurting his ears. What was he referring to?
Yes, he was referring to the inner-ear sound monitors that were in his ears. Michael had never used them before, and they are an exact science, and you have to work on them to get the sound right. We wanted to work with Michael with them, but he just came into rehearsal and put them in his ear and we started rehearsing. That is why he said in the movie that he felt like the sound was like a fist in his ear, because it blocks off all other sound unless it’s adjusted right.

Michael seemed so concerned about the band and crew’s feelings before giving any criticism.
Yes, that is true and it’s in the movie. That is how he was — all love.

What are you doing now?
I multitask. I have my own company, and I do movie soundtracks and productions and I have my own CD coming out.

Has working with the “This Is It” band and being in the movie opened any other doors of opportunity for you?
Absolutely. Opportunities in both the music industry and in business have been offered to me. Right now, things are really busy.

It has been reported that the “This Is It” movie grossed more than $100 million in the first week. Are you and the other band members receiving any money from the movie?
I can’t really comment on that. It is a great question, but there was a contract that was done and it was handled correctly. I have no complaints.

Had Michael Jackson lived, where would the tour be right now?
We would be in Europe doing three shows a week. I know that there was a lot of speculation about Michael being able to do 50 shows, and I have no doubt that he would have completed all 50 concert dates.

Did Michael Jackson seem sickly during rehearsals?
No, not at all. They had special dietitians on the set, but he was fine. He was a man of 49 years, almost 50 years old, doing all of those dance moves.

Did the band pray before every rehearsal?
In the movie, when we all gathered in a circle, that was a special occasion when Michael wanted to say thank you to all of us. He knew that we were all dedicated to do the greatest show on earth. I can’t emphasize enough how hard we all worked. We would see the sun come up, and when I would finally go home, I would see my neighbors headed out to their jobs.

What was your final memory of Michael before he died?
The day before he died, I remember having a great connection with him. He looked me in my eyes and shook my hand with great force. He was not at all weak. We both looked each other in the eyes and I said how glad I was to be there. He said, “God bless you.” I will never forget that.

Did Michael ever bring his children to rehearsals?
Michael was doing full dance rehearsals that were five and six hours a day, and then come and rehearse with the band. He never brought his children to the rehearsals, because he had very serious ethics about rehearsals. He just wanted people there that were involved with the production.

In the movie, when Michael does his tribute to earth, he mentions that we only have four years to get it right. What did he mean by that?
I haven’t researched it, but I interpreted it as we only have four years left before the damage to earth is irreversible. We might only have three years now, but even if we try to help the earth after three years, it might be too late.

Was it the entire band’s understanding, and Michael’s, that there would be 50 concert dates?
Yes. The dates were all going to be in London for two years with a plan to bring the concert to the United States.

Who named the tour, “This Is It”?
Michael is the one who named the tour. It can be taken so many ways. I understood it to be a great show that he showed his children. The song, “This Is It,” sounds like he is singing to children. He was leaving a legacy.

Was Michael humble?


Michael Jackson was nothing but love?

I think that was the theme of the movie.


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