Michael Jackson’s music – for the most part – will play on, despite the shocking accounts of sexual abuse detailed in the documentary “Leaving Neverland.”

Michael Jackson waves to crowds gathered to see him at his first-ever in-store appearance in New York, on Nov. 7, 2001. The producers of “The Simpsons” are removing a classic episode that featured the voice of Jackson. Associated Press file photo/Suzanne Plunkett

A West Bath radio station and a wedding DJ out of Gorham have joined stations internationally and “The Simpsons” TV show in choosing to mute the late singer after the documentary aired on HBO last weekend. But after reaching out to listeners and considering the connection between art and artist, most who play his music have not taken a stance against spinning the so-called King of Pop, saying his influence is too great and his songs too popular to silence.

That includes a touring Jackson tribute show scheduled to play the Portland nightclub Aura in April, which organizers said is still on, and a local Motown cover band that will continue to play the music Jackson made with his brothers in the Jackson 5.

The only radio station to publicly announce a Jackson ban this week was WLAM in West Bath, an oldies station heard on 870 and 1470 AM that rarely played Jackson in the past. Station owner Bob Bittner said if he kept Jackson’s music on his play list, it would signal to people that he “didn’t care” about Jackson’s “unacceptable” behavior.

Another station, Augusta’s 107.9 The Mix, polled about 300 listeners this week and found that more than 90 percent of them wanted the 50,000-watt station to continue to play Jackson’s hits, which include “Black or White,” “Man in the Mirror” and “Billie Jean.”

“The general sentiment of the calls, emails and texts were that you can separate his talent and art from his life and behavior,” said Jay Hanson, one of the station’s three morning hosts. “We listen to our listeners, and they want to hear his music.”

From left, “Miss Chrissy,” Jay Hanson and Desiree, morning hosts at 107.9 The Mix in Augusta, discussed the latest allegations against Michael Jackson with their listeners. Some viewed a music ban as unnecessarily harmful to his family. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

SEPARATING ART AND ARTIST

Fallout from “Leaving Neverland,” considered to contain the most damning evidence of abuse by Jackson, caused several radio stations in New Zealand, The Netherlands and Canada to ban his music, but so far there has been no such widespread ban in the U.S. or in Maine. The executive producer of “The Simpsons,” however, announced this week that the show would pull a popular episode famously featuring Jackson as the voice of a character who thinks he is the singer.

In the documentary, which aired Sunday and Monday on HBO, the film’s two main subjects, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, detailed accusations of being sexually molested by Jackson when they were children. Both testified on Jackson’s behalf when he faced sexual misconduct allegations in 1993, and Robson did again in 2005, when the singer was acquitted of different child abuse charges. But the men now say they weren’t being truthful during those testimonies and that becoming fathers prompted them to come forward with their stories. Jackson died in 2009 at the age of 50.

Besides The Mix, Portland station WJZP 107.9 FM also will keep playing Jackson’s music, including songs recorded with his brothers in the Jackson 5, said Dennis Ross, the station’s president. WJZP is heard in Greater Portland and plays a range of genres including jazz, Motown, R&B and funk. Ross said Jackson’s musical output, spanning four decades, is a big part of what they play. Ross says that celebrating Jackson’s music is not equal to condoning what he’s alleged to have done and that his station has not gotten any complaints about playing it.

Maine DJs who play weddings or dance clubs have different considerations, because people pay them to play music and their prime job is to get people dancing – and that’s what Jackson’s music always does, said Jon Hawkins, who does weddings and for years was a DJ at the popular ’80s night at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge in Portland. He said he’s played the music of other musicians with serious allegations against them, including R. Kelly, and nobody ever boos or complains. They just keep dancing.

‘MUSIC IS MORE EMOTIONAL’

“People care about the crime, but music is more emotional, and if the song is happy, the other stuff doesn’t matter,” Hawkins said. “If the audience was booing me, I’d switch songs. But when I play Michael Jackson, people love it.”

If the bride and groom specifically asked to omit Jackson, Hawkins said he probably would.

Dave Dionne, another southern Maine wedding DJ, said that after seeing the HBO film, he will not play Jackson at weddings, at least for the time being. If the wedding couple asks him, he will, but if the decision is his, he won’t.

“It left me troubled and bothered,” Dionne said about the documentary. “I’m just not going to play him, for now. I can always find another song during the dancing.”

Exactly how many Maine radio stations are considering whether to continue playing Jackson’s music is hard to say, since several groups did not return calls or emails for this story, including Townsquare Media, owner of pop station Q97.9, rock station WCYY, classic rock station WBLM, country station 103.7 The Peak and WHOM, which plays a mix of music from the ’80s to today; and Portland Radio Group, which includes Rewind 100.9, playing a mix of music from the ’70s to the ’90s; as well as Portland station Frank FM, a classic hits station.

At 107.9 The Mix in Augusta, Hanson and his co-hosts – Miss Chrissy and Desiree – discussed the Jackson allegations on-air and got lots of reaction from listeners. The three hosts said some listeners said a ban on Jackson’s music, as a punishment for his alleged behavior, would be pointless because he’s dead. So the people being punished by a loss of money would be his family, they said, which is different than singer R. Kelly, who in February was charged with criminal sexual abuse in Chicago, based on allegations of four women who accused the singer of forcing them engage in sex acts when they were underage. When The Mix polled listeners about R. Kelly, who is still alive and still profiting from his music, most said the station should stop playing him.

Bittner, at WLAM, plays songs from the ’40s through ’70s, and so he would usually only play Jackson’s music occasionally on the station’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Fridays.” Still, once he started thinking about the allegations brought against Jackson in the film, he decided he needed to act.

“I thought if somebody heard one of his songs a month from now, they might wonder why I’m playing it and think I don’t care about the issue,” said Bittner, who runs his stations out of his home in West Bath. “What he supposedly did is not acceptable.”

Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations are a Maine band that does Motown covers and will continue to do Jackson’s music, especially his early hits with the Jackson 5.

“You can’t really do a Motown show and leave out Michael Jackson,” said Colwell, of Bath. “He was a giant, and he changed music with the (‘Thriller’) album, I don’t think anyone would argue with that. I feel I can separate the art from the artist. A lot of artistic geniuses were flawed or deeply damaged.”

CONTRASTED WITH R. KELLY

At Portland nonprofit community station WMPG, on the University of Southern Maine campus, DJs are volunteers and make their own programming decisions. In an email survey taken by program director Jessica Lockhart, three said they would not ban his music from their shows and three said they would not play his music. Others said they don’t play his music much, if it at all, so it’s not really an issue. Being a non-commercial station, WMPG doesn’t have the same pressure to play Michael Jackson as commercial stations do, and DJs try to focus on lesser-known artists.

“These are not new allegations (against Jackson), and when I started deejaying 15 years ago, I chose not to play him, but I really didn’t have to play him either,” said Mary Holt, who hosts a show called Ghostland Radio on WMPG. “I choose not to play other artists who have similar allegations against them, like R. Kelly. But being non-commercial, we’re in a different situation.”

A touring Michael Jackson tribute show called “Who’s Bad” is scheduled to play the Aura nightclub in Portland on April 5. The show was being advertised on Aura’s website this week with ticket prices ranging from $20 to $44.75. Aura management declined to comment on the show.

Organizers of the show, which is also playing Cleveland, Chicago and several other major cities in March, responded to questions about the show with an emailed statement, which did not respond to questions about possible complaints or cancellations since the airing of “Leaving Neverland,” but said fans of the touring show are “as enthusiastic now as they were 15 years ago” when the show began.

“Who’s Bad’s goal has always been to perform Michael Jackson’s music – some of the best music ever created in the pop genre – to the best of our ability, and that is our sole focus,” wrote Vamsi Tadepalli, a manager of the tour. “I can only imagine our fans’ opinions are as diverse as they are. But they all continue to tell us how much they love our show.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: RayRouthier

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