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Michael Jackson’s Life Through The Eyes of His Musical Director

Greg Phillianganes during Thursday’s talk.

Michael Jackson’s legacy will forever be tied to Greg Phillinganes’ life. 

“My job as [musical director] is to translate the artist’s wishes to the band, and to make sure the band is playing the right parts. You know, Michael trusted me with that,” said Phillinganes.

The UAB Department of Music hosted an online event Thursday night that was credited to Greg Phillinganes’ involvement and partnership in Jackson’s musical career. He was the music director, recording artist and keyboardist who worked alongside Jackson on almost every album. 

“One of them I know I liked was ‘Smooth Criminal’. ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ is another one, and ‘She’s Out of My Life’ because it’s mostly me and him,” Phillinganes said.

Phillinganes said he accompanied Jackson and the crew on the Bad and Dangerous tours. He got to travel around the globe with the musician, however, he left early on one of the tours due to “production issues” with Jackson.

“There’s a documentary on this, that I’m actually a part of, and it shows me rehearsing at the piano with Michael, Lionel [Richie] and Stevie [Wonder],” Phillinganes said. “You don’t even have time to realize how amazing this moment is.”

The UAB event was open to the public and it reached people from countries all over the world like Peru, Brazil and New Zealand. The YouTube audience members commented in questions to Phillinganes about working with Jackson, his personal life, the tour and other MJ-related topics. 

Phillinganes said Jackson worked very hard to captivate with his performances.

“He was extremely disciplined—extremely,” Phillinganes said about Michael Jackson.

However, Phillinganes also said Jackson’s life was not perfect, despite his perfectionist approach to his work.

“Please make no mistake. For every massive achievement and mountain, there have been twice as many valleys,” Phillinganes said. “It was not all glorious.”

Phillinganes considered himself close to Jackson and his family, sometimes he would even be invited over to their house. He said he remembers being invited to MJ’s house to listen to never-before-heard demos of soon-to-be hit tracks like “Billie Jean.”

Toward the end of the livestream event, co-host Dr. Henry Panion III asked Phillinganes to play popular melodies from each of Michael Jackson’s albums. This activity prompted many side stories about the writing process and times with MJ. 

Phillinganes has written, performed and directed many historic moments in the music industry, and he said working with Jackson is one he’s most grateful for. 

“It feels wonderful,” Phillinganes said. “It feels just as much a source of pride as it does being involved in ‘Songs of the Key of Life.’”

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Made By Students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham