Tuesday’s Michael Jackson memorial featured performances from some of Michael’s best-known friends, admirers, colleagues and inspirations, including Mariah Carey, Usher, Jennifer Hudson, Lionel Richie and Jermaine Jackson. But the grand finale — which featured all-hands-on-deck renditions of “We Are the World” and “Heal the World” — introduced a handful of unfamiliar performers who shared the stage, albeit anonymously, with their more famous counterparts.
Though Jackson’s supporting performers have usually remained behind the scenes (except Sheryl Crow, who toured with him in the 1980s), most of them have had full careers working as session musicians for Jackson and other iconic performers.
Singer Judith Hill left perhaps the most lasting impression, taking the lead on “Heal the World.” Hill is a singer from Los Angeles recruited to be a backup singer for Jackson’s “This Is It” concerts in London. Her own music is a fusion of rock, funk and soul that mirrors Jackson’s mid-period work, which made her a good fit for “Heal the World.”
One of the other singers during the medly was Dorian Holley (the third solo in “We Are the World”), who sang backup for Jackson on several tours. You may also recognize Holley from his appearances on “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” as well as during his gig as a vocal coach on “American Idol.” Last year, after a long career of backing up other people, he released his first solo album Independent Film.
Holley was joined by Ken Stacy, another Los Angeles-based session musician who has worked with Phil Collins and Elton John, among many others. His first solo album I Will Still Be Me, and he also contributed a track to Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement, an album released in support of Barack Obama during his presidential campaign that also featured fellow Jackson tribute contributors Lionel Richie and John Mayer.
The vocalist who lead off “We Are the World” was longtime Jackson collaborator Darryl Phinnessee, who has worked with Jackson since the Dangerous era. Phinnessee is probably best known for co-writing “Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs,” the theme song to long-running sitcom “Frasier.”
Also prominent onstage was 24-year-old Australian guitarist and singer Orianthi Panagaris, who had also signed on to be a part of the London “This Is It” concerts and was featured rocking out with Jackson in the rehearsal footage released last week. Though the blonde, long-haired guitarist is relatively unknown — and is not to be confused with similarly flaxen-haired guitarist Jennifer Batten, who joined Jackson on previous tours — Panagaris has performed with Prince, is under contract to 19/Geffen Records and counts Carlos Santana among her many admirers. She is currently working on her first solo album.
For complete coverage of the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit “Michael Jackson Remembered.”
Share your Michael Jackson memories by uploading video and comments to Your.MTV.com or joining the discussion below.