J.J. Jackson was born on April 8, 1941, in the Bronx, New York. A former marine, he started his career in radio in the 1960s, working at stations in Boston and Los Angeles. In 1976, Jackson's voice was heard during the film Car Wash as a radio disc jockey. When MTV launched on August 1, 1981, Jackson was one of the original five VJs. After MTV, Jackson returned to Los Angeles and radio. He died in 2004 in Los Angeles, California.
Born John J. Jackson Jr. on April 8, 1941, in the Bronx, New York, J.J. Jackson was one of the first video jockeys, or VJs, on the MTV cable network when the channel was launched in 1981. A former marine, he had started his career in radio in the 1960s. His first job was at WBCN-FM in Boston and later moved to Los Angeles, California, where he worked at several different stations. In 1976, his low, warm voice appeared in the film Car Wash as a radio disc jockey. During his years as a DJ, Jackson had developed a number of friendships with performers, such as Rod Stewart and Robert Plant.
Before MTV, Jackson had been working as a music reporter for a Los Angeles television station. He then moved to New York City to help make music history. When the music channel launched on August 1, 1981, the first video played was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles and a musical revolution began. The station shook up the music industry, changed the way artists were promoted, and provided a new venue for bands and performers who were not getting played on traditional radio.
Original MTV VJ
J.J. Jackson, nicknamed "Triple J," was a part of this revolution, along with the other four original VJs: Martha Quinn, Alan Hunter, Mark Goodman and Nina Blackwood. He was also the only African American on-air personality at the channel. On air, Jackson came off as knowledgeable, gentle, and easy-going. "He was the guy who been through it all and was able to always put a mature perspective to things," Goodman later told the Los Angeles Times.
All of the VJs quickly became celebrities. But it wasn't all smooth sailing for Jackson. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, he almost quit early on after a news story on a blues musician. Quinn convinced Jackson to stay and the two formed a strong friendship.
During his five-year tenure at MTV, Jackson interviewed countless rock musicians, including the members of KISS who were unmasked during a talk with him in 1982. He also covered such major musical events as 1985 Live Aid benefit concert in London. Helping to break new artists, Jackson served as the host for the show 120 Minutes.
After working MTV, Jackson returned to Los Angeles and to radio. In 1995, he began hosting a weekly syndicated show on the Beatles. One of his final gigs as a local DJ was on KTVW-FM. He encountered some health problems in the years before his death and underwent a triple-bypass surgery. But Goodman, who had seen him shortly before his passing said that Jackson "was in great shape, he'd lost weight."
On the night of March 17, 2004, Jackson was driving home after having dinner with a friend, and had a heart attack behind the wheel. Somehow, Jackson was able to pull off the road and avoid having an accident. By the time paramedics arrived, it was too late. Their efforts to revive him at the scene and the hospital failed.
As his friends, family, and fans mourned, MTV released the following statement about its pioneering VJ: "J.J. Jackson's deep passion for music, his ease and good humor on air and his welcoming style really set the tone for the early days of MTV. He was a big part of the channel's success, and we are sure he is in the music section of heaven."
Twice married, Jackson was survived by a daughter and two grandchildren.
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