GARY, Ind. -- Michael Jackson's hometown celebrated youth Friday night -- primarily the early days of its favorite-son entertainer but also his echoed influence in today's undiscovered singers and dancers.
The memorial celebration at the U.S. Steel Yard baseball stadium featured a parade of young men from Indiana and Chicago wearing fedoras, armbands and leather jackets to honor Jackson's dynamic career.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson noted the theme when telling the capacity audience of 6,000 that the evening represented Gary's true identity: "Our talent, our joy, our children."
A high-profile adviser to the singer's family since his June 25 death, Jesse Jackson suggested a contrast between California, where the "XYZ" of Jackson's life is examined, and Gary, which is the "ABC."
The Jackson family's patriarch, Joseph Jackson, made a brief onstage appearance, during which he made no mention of his son but said it was good to be home.
Anita Hill, who taught music to third-grader Michael at Garnett Elementary School, spoke from a stage in the ballpark's outfield about his first public performance -- a rendition of "Climb Every Mountain" from "The Sound of Music" musical.
"I never used third-graders in choir; I used sixth-graders," Hill said. "After I heard Michael, I changed all my rules."
Kellee Patterson, winner of the 1971 Miss Indiana pageant, sang "Gone Too Soon," Jackson's ballad inspired by Kokomo AIDS patient Ryan White, and talked about hanging out with Jackson at pre-stardom talent shows.
Audience member Marcal Mitchell moved to Gary as an 11-year-old in 1966. He recalled playing softball with the Jackson siblings, but he wasn't convinced that international fame was in their future.
"Nobody expected it," Mitchell said. "A lot of us were musicians at the time, so I was expecting it to happen for me."
The current crop of emerging talent includes the South Shore Dance Alliance, which revived memorable dance steps seen in videos for the songs "Thriller," "Beat It" and "The Way You Make Me Feel."
Michael Turner played a spirited saxophone version of "Dirty Diana," while 11-year-old Terre Haute native Isaiah Pittman V earned a standing ovation for his rendition of "Got to Be There" -- Jackson's first single as a solo artist in 1971.
Hundreds of youngsters from the Family Christian Center wore zombie wardrobe and makeup during a show-stopping pantomime of the "Thriller" video, reflecting Jackson's ability to bridge the scary and sacred.
A massive choir sang "We Are the World," which initially closed the memorial celebration at the three-hour mark. The Chi-Lites, a 1970s R&B group, performed a short roundup of hits to provide an encore.