1978:: Janelle Commissiong aka Miss Universe 77

December 1, 2009

February 1978, Michael Jackson meets the new Miss Universe Penny Commissiong at the Hilton Hotel

Interview with Michael by phone from California, August 3, 1978:

L.R. You’ve been seen out with Janelle Penny Commissiong, the former Miss Universe. Is it a romance?

M.J. [Laughter, giggling.] That’s a hard question to answer. Like most of the people you may see me out with, like Tatum [O’Neal] and Janelle, they’re kind of on and off, they’re friends, and [hysterical laughter] … I talk to them. I don’t know how to describe it, really [more laughter]. I don’t know what to say.

Toledo Blade, Aug 8, 1978

DRIVE, HE SAID: Michael Jackson blew $80,000 of his “Wiz” salary on a new Rolls – a gift to himself – and moved on to Phase Two: he’s learning to drive so he can take Janelle Commissiong, a former Miss Universe, to the movie’s premiere Oct 24th.

Jermaine, 1984

But he dates other women, including a former Miss Universe and Tatum O’Neal.

Trinidad Tobego Guardian, 28 Jun 2009

In 1978, I was an absolute neophyte, just out of college with big, maddeningly elusive dreams of being a writer and photographer. Michael Jackson, born in the same year I was, already had a pop star’s career. With his brothers, he had been performing since the age of five and, on the day he arrived in Piarco, had logged an imposing number of hit songs both with his brothers and as a solo act.

The concerts in Trinidad and Tobago would constitute a sliver of the band’s performance history and register as a fragment of that for Michael Jackson, whose star was about to go incandescent. The group had just left Motown and signed with Epic Records, producing a nondescript album titled, Goin Places‚ which didn’t. In the United States, they were popular but considered a bit past their prime in 1978.

In Trinidad and Tobago, they were the biggest stars the country had seen since Sam Cooke. The Martineau brothers, trading as Spektakula Promotions, delivered concerts at the Queen’s Park Savannah and at Skinner Park in San Fernando, performances by a band that was polished and practised at delivering the hits of more than a decade.

Penny meets the boys

Through a confluence of event and opportunity, I ended up in a small meeting room at the Hilton where the Jacksons were to meet local performers a day before the first of their local concerts. Alfred Aguiton’s new public relations company, AMPLE, was handling the press liaison, and he struck on the idea of bringing Penny Commissiong down to meet the boys. His brother, William, worked at the hotel and facilitated the request and so it came to pass that the first black Miss Universe came to meet the future King of Pop.

And I was the only photographer in the room. Armed with a beginner’s Pentax, the K1000 and a little flash, I shot the encounter, prompting a bemused Penny to ask my colleague, Joan Christopher in an aside she later took some glee in reporting to me, “Does he normally shake so much?” The resulting photo of Penny and Michael greatly pleased the Epic representatives, who requested prints that were promptly circulated to the international press.

There is, regrettably, little that happened of any consequence during their short stay. The boys, minus their brother Jermaine who remained with Motown, were press savvy, presenting themselves as quiet, generally shy young black men who largely kept to themselves and signed autographs politely when cornered.

Michael was the quietest of the group, prone to gently bowing his head as if the weight of his enormous afro was just a little too much for him, speaking a pitch and tone lower than his brothers and responding to direct looks with a shy smile. Thriller, cosmetic surgery and vitiligo were still in this young man’s future. At his request, John Cupid and I accompanied him to the top of Picton Road in Laventille, his security rolling along in a car a respectful but close distance behind as he set out to “meet the people,” as he put it.

The lanky young black man, his hair a massive puff that swayed in the evening breeze, walked along the road, waving, shaking hands and chatting with surprised people relaxing in their verandahs on a warm sunny Sunday afternoon. I photographed the entire encounter for what I was told were his scrapbooks, memoirs he gathered of his travels.

In return for another pittance, I handed over my unprocessed film of this evening stroll. Somewhere in the collected properties of the Michael Jackson empire, I sometimes imagine, is an old scrapbook full of these pictures, images I’ve never seen. I learned less about Michael Jackson’s world that evening than I had the day before, when the security team I was travelling with switched cars with the Jackson’s official vehicle.

We bundled into the car in the evening on its way to Skinner Park, and it rolled into a huge crowd waiting for the pop stars. Hands pressed against the tinted glass and groped at the door handle of the backdoor. I had failed to lock the door, and it sprang open with a roar of screams, now clearly audible.

I looked up, into the face of Michael Jackson’s world, a web of grasping digits, wide eyes and open mouths beyond them, accompanied by a ululating screech. A hand shot past me, pushing me back into my seat and seizing the door handle firmly, gently but forcibly shutting it again as the hands retreated and the sound dimmed. Through my shock, I heard the guard growl, “You never, ever, forget to lock the door.”

Trinidad & Tobago Express, July 3rd, 2009

It seems we really never can say goodbye to the man who was Michael Jackson. Readers have been asking for more pictures of the Jacksons’ visit to T&T.

Spektakula Promotions Frank Martineau, who along with his brother Claude brought them to T&T on that now historic visit in 1978, said that he actually remembers very little, about the many places the brothers were taken to visit. Michael Jackson he remembers was ’very shy, introverted and very protected.’

The brothers however willingly met with the young people of T&T.

Yet Frank remembers the brothers valued their privacy and has this anecdote:

’The brothers were sitting around the pool and a member of our security team pulled up a chair to sit with them and the brothers were like ’excuse me’ and he had to leave them to talk. We used to laugh about that a long time after,’ Frank reminisced.

Their father did not accompany them, but there was a ’big, red, man’ with them who people mistook for Joe Jackson, Frank said.

Several activities were organised for the brothers. ’We had a committee comprising myself, Claude, Bunny Cummerbatch and Earl Patterson and we discussed everything. I think the man who took them to John John, which I actually don’t remember, was John Cupid.

The Jacksons came to Trinidad in February 1978, they stayed at the then Hilton Hotel. They had a wish fulfilled when they were introduced to T&T-born Miss Universe Janelle ’Penny’ Commissiong. While here they performed three shows, two at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain and one at Skinner Park, San Fernando.

Martineau says the team realised sometime after that having so many shows just was not economical. ’You don’t want all that expense. I think we charged $20 and the shows were sold out at that price which was plenty money then.’

However many readers have been asking to see some highlights of their visit to T&T in 1978. Here they are in photos taken by Tony Forte and Hubert Alexander.


  1. I just heard on a different blog, that Janelle actually slept over when MJ was in New York. Something interesting you may want to find. I think they said it was said by “Incog”

    • LOL I was there when the Incogneato posted that. I believe it. Has it already spread around the web? Where did you see it posted?

      I need to do a “rumours” page. Lots of credible people share info online…

      • Reaally. LOL. It was on lipstickalley.com that they were discussing it. Under the ‘Ladies In his Life’ forum.

  2. It’s amazing how the mainstream media never contacted Janelle Commissiong to discuss her relationship with MJ,I know it’s probably really interesting. Or maybe they did, but she’s woman enough not to discuss their relationship.

    • It’d be awesome to hear something from her.

      The mainstream news ignore all his girls though 😦

      • Dang I’m learning a lot thanks to this blog! I never heard that Janelle stayed over @ Sutton. I guess I should change my thinking a little about that situation. I always thought that Michael’s “hysterical laughter” when talking about her and Tatum in that interview was a little suspect though.

        I’m still having a fit over something I ran across earlier. rockforeveron, maybe you can help me out. What do Jessica Hahn, Regina Belle, Sade, Shari Dub, Yuki Sumido, Janet Zeuiton, Lori Werner, Asha Rai, and Pam Grier have to do with Michael? :O

        And did he do more than flirt with Sherilyn Fenn? lol I’m full of questions like usual.

        • LOL you’ve seen the list? Was it on LSA or somewhere else?

          Jessica Hahn – did Playboy in 1987, Mike spoke to her on the phone and asked her to sign a copy of her Playboy for him
          Regina Belle – an insider I believe is credible said Mike thought she was pretty
          Sade – Mike loved her voice and thought she was pretty
          Shari Dub – his secretary from sometime in the early 80s to about 1985/6, there’s a story that he had an affair with an Asian secretary and she seems to fit the bill quite well…
          Yuki Sumido – his TWYMMF dancer in DWT, also starred in Black or White and Ghosts, in the DWT rehearsal you can see him chasing her butt across the stage
          Janet Zeuiton – hairstylist for about 10 years, in Stranger in Moscow you can see him play with her bra straps
          Lori Werner – HIStory and Brunei TWYMMF girl, he spanks her ass on stage a few times, chases her off stage and is really playful with her, she was also Prince’s “Diamonds” girl in Diamonds & Pearls
          Aisha Rai – when Randy Jnr had his facebook up someone asked if he knew which women MJ had a crush on and Randy named Aisha
          Pam Grier – Bobby Colomby says MJ had a crush on her back in the mid 70s

          I doubt he did more than flirt with Sherilynn, she’s a hardcore Prince girl and she was dating him at the time. Didn’t stop Mike from flirting…

          • lol! I’m late. Yes a friend linked me to what looked like a list after I googled Stacey Dash and Michael b/c of something I read on a different site. I can’t keep everything straight it’s almost too much. I heard something else recently about him and one of the members of Brownstone too. 😮

    • That and she’s black.

      • That’s the TRUTH!!! Because she’s Black, she gets ignored. I wonder how many Black girls did MJ actually have a relationship with? Did they actually exist?? He always talked about white girls. Was that really his preference? Or is it that the Black women he DID date were all unknowns, & they haven’t come forward, & if they did, media just overlooked them? This is really getting under my skin. I’ve read that he thought Black women were “the prettiest women”, but how come that didn’t reflect in his actions? Actions speak louder than words. And where are ppl getting this info from? (that he liked Black women.) I’d really like to do some research of my own, & unfortunately, I’ve come up w/zilch. I’m trying to find reliable sources, not hearsay.

        • you have a point. I only seen him with sistas on here and 2 pics on youtube(besides Ms. Ross).

          • Ms Appeal, thanks. I just want to know where ppl are getting this info from. I’ve seen the Ebony articles, but outside of that, I’ve come up w/nothing. Is this pure conjecture or is there SOLID factual evidence? Like ppl say that his first love was a blasian, but they have no name OR picture! So, how do you know she was blasian? By hearsay?

  3. The mainstream news ignore all his BLACK girls though

  4. I had a friend of mine to try & dig in deeper on MJ & Penny during this time. From what I found that some time when she won her Miss Universe Crown they did ask her if she had a boyfriend & she said yes, but he lives in the era where she lived in the Caribbeans-now this is an reminder; this was like in ’76 or ’77 whenever she just won. So there’s a great possiblity by the time she personally met MJ she just may’ve no longer was dating this guy by that time. I wonder if anyone else had found out this information that I found of this guy she was dating during the time she won her crown? I don’t think this guy she was dating was the same one that eventually became her 1st husband. I just wished she gave his name & then i would know for sure-but she didn’t. What do you guys think? Do you think the guys she mentioned that she was dating at the time she won MiSS Universe is the same guy that later became her 1st husband?! Either way, MJ really seemed to be interested in her & I didn’t see anything of what that guy said that MJ was so shy & etc.-from all those pix I saw b/w MJ & Penny, he seemed bold & seductive & plus he was whipering in her ear & kissing her & was in a deep conversation w/her-so where’s the whole, He’s so shy cramp comes from. I think MJ was playing it off to be shy cuz he was aware of some people watchin’ him & he didn’t think it was anybody’s biz on what he was sayin’ or doin’ w/Penny! I just wished since MJ’s passing Penny would spoke up & just share her experience w/MJ just like Stephanie Mills has cuz Penny was ’round MJ during that same era Stephanie & TatO’ was-which MJ was 100% alot more open during that era!

  5. I found this interesting, maybe you will too (o:
    Justice For Michael ❤
    Peace and love Christiane (mj lover)

  6. I have lots of pics of this Jackson 5 visit to Trinidad in 1978.

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