June 26th, 2009
11:53 PM ET

The night I played piano for Michael Jackson

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/SHOWBIZ/Music/06/25/michael.jackson.legacy/art.michael.jackson.02.gi.jpg]

Mona Lisa Mouallem
Associate Producer, Fareed Zakaria GPS

I am a huge lover of music. Like so many people around the globe, the soundtrack to my childhood was made up in good part of Michael Jackson’s records. My brother Joe and I danced to Thriller for hours on end in our living room. I understood, at a very young age, how talented Michael was and as I grew up I watched Michael continue to inspire millions in every corner of the planet with his unparalleled music, style and message.

So when people ask me ‘what is the greatest moment of your life thus far’, I do not hesitate for one moment: it was the night I got to play the piano for Michael Jackson.

Let me back up a little. Michael and my dad became friendly when he moved to New York in 2001 to record his album, Invincible. While I am well aware of the many controversies that surrounded Michael Jackson’s life, they had no bearing on the evenings that my family and I got to spend with him. My family was lucky enough to get to know him and his beautiful, lovely children, away from the flash of cameras and the chants of fans.

So, we were finishing up a home-cooked meal at my parents’ apartment and Michael, who knew I had played the piano since I was a child, asked me to play a piece for him. Of course I said yes, and of course it all seemed so surreal. I sat down at the piano and thought “How on earth does one entertain Michael Jackson? What could I possibly play for him?” I chose a Debussy piece - Deux Arabesques. It was the longest four minutes of my life, the most famous entertainer in the world listening intently with his eyes closed. As I finished the piece, I looked up at him for his reaction. My heart was POUNDING. My hands were visibly shaking. His eyes were still closed. He was silent. He then opened his eyes and said with enormous humility and a deep sincerity that still rings in my ear to this day, “Mona, thank you for that. Thank you thank you thank you.”

It was at that moment that I understood how unique this man was. He, the “King of Pop”, was sitting in the same living room where my brother and I had danced to his music videos in our childhood. And there he was, listening to me play with the same attentiveness that he would have given a concert pianist. And he listened, all the while playing wistfully with his daughter Paris’ hair, making sure she and her brother, Prince Michael, were listening, too. It was the first, strong indication of a truth that would be reinforced by other moments with Michael. With all the fame and fortune he had amassed, with all the clout he had in the industry, at the end of the day what mattered to him were the very fundamentals of life. He was kind, loving and incredibly modest. He absolutely adored his children and was zealous about raising them as good souls. He had tremendous respect and love for all kinds of music – pop, rock, classical, jazz – regardless of who was playing and where. And he was genuinely interested in the lives of others, and would gladly take a step back to let them shine, even if it was for only four minutes.

It is really difficult to imagine what the music industry would be like had he never existed. And it’s equally as difficult to imagine what lies ahead now that he’s no longer with us. But what I can say is that the world will never be the same without the great gift of his voice, his musicality and his unmistakable presence. So on behalf of all those who knew you either personally or through your incredible music: Michael, thank you. Thank you thank you thank you.

Thank you to my brother Joe for your help in conveying these memories. We can still dance to MJ in the living room.

soundoff (233 Responses)
  1. Kimberley Collins

    Hi Anderson,

    Is it true that Michael, Ed and Farrah appeared together on the Johnny Carson show twenty years ago? If so, they all three have left this world within days or hours of one another after sitting side by side on the Tonight Show years ago.
    We have lost three bright stars in our universe and should reflect on the all the happiness they brought us in their heyday, instead of the negative. We forget they have families who are greiving in our zest for any negative information the media can feed us. I agree with Liza Minnelli, let us celebrate his life (and theirs), please let their families greive with some decency and respect, before all hell breaks loose with all the private details of his life. It is time to focus on the positive aspects of Michael's life and what joy he brought to the world while he was with us.


    June 26, 2009 at 5:20 pm |
  2. sheila e

    thank you for that very personal look into the person that we feel he really was

    June 26, 2009 at 5:19 pm |
  3. mindy

    What a fitting tribute ~ this is the best example of what a wonderul human being he was. Not a monster, as many would have us remember him to be. This is a horribly sad death. Thank you for making me smile!

    June 26, 2009 at 5:12 pm |
  4. Dorian Mastros

    Awe crap man! I just finished shedding tears for Mike and here I go again...

    June 26, 2009 at 5:11 pm |
  5. Tom C.

    I imagine that they will turn Neverland into MJ's graceland. My question is who owns Neverland now, and is the owner going to keep the property and the house as it is? Or will the Jackson's step up and by it back to set up as a graceland for MJ?

    June 26, 2009 at 5:11 pm |
  6. Beatrice Veiga

    Michael Jackson was a true musical genius and the world was the better for it.

    June 26, 2009 at 5:07 pm |
  7. Celeste Matthee - South Africa

    Beautifully written. He was a legend in his own right. Thank you for a lovely tribute, to a man of much energy, creativity and foresight into the music of POP.

    June 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm |
  8. Carol B. in MD

    So...the molestation charges and huge settlements "had no bearing" on the evenings you & your family spent with him? How lovely that you can compartmentalize so efficiently! He's innocent the way OJ was when he was initially aquitted of the murders. He was a good or great musician or dancer and might have gotten away with being eccentric if it wasn't for those "pesky charges". Why doesn't someone ask those children how they feel about his demise?

    June 26, 2009 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Michael Riddle

    I'm 50 years old, and remember all the music Michael Jackson had ever come out with, I think he was a great musician and a very complex individual, like the rides on his ranch he to had an up and down ride with life, having said this, no one has the right to judge a person for what they believe or disbelieve . God created us all and when it comes right down to it , that is where he will be solely judged,and i believe he will and has earned his wings in Gods eyes. We've all made mistakes in our lives that sometimes we regret , so those of you who are bashing Michael Jackson remember the song ,Man In The Mirror , take a good look at yourselves!!!!!!!! May God Bless Him and Keep Him and May God Bless his children and Family in these hard times. He will alway be a Rockin Robin, Fly Michael Fly , your safe and home now, no one will ever hurt you again.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  10. Patti

    Thank you. It's nice to hear something so kind and loving. We all know how the media will spin everything in the days and weeks to come.

    I hope more people read your story.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:49 pm |
  11. Blue (Denver, Co)

    Oh my... what a lovely & loving recollection. Yes, he was the Golden Child, in spite of everything, and we'll love him and remember him as long as there are hearts to love, ears to listen and feet to dance, dance, dance!

    June 26, 2009 at 4:49 pm |
  12. Shari

    hank you for showing us the man, father that we didn't see.He will be missed by so many, myself included.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:48 pm |
  13. jimmyZ


    June 26, 2009 at 4:44 pm |
  14. Jerry in Tucson

    I'm so heartbroken and devastated with this horrible news that Michael Jackson is gone.
    Michael Jackson was a year young than me. As a teenager I hung up his pictures and the J5 poster on my walls. I bought and still have all of 45 records, The Jackson 5 albums, recorded the music video’s, Jackson 5 cartoon’s in the early 70’s, Ben the movie about the rat, Sunny and Cher Hour and American Band Stand. I have won many rollerstake dance contest to Micheals music. He was the only singer that I connected with as a child and into my adult-hood.

    I will never care about anything that the haters have to say about Micheal. Someday they will be judge as they are trying to judge Michael for their small lives and they will never touch the world as Micheal has. “He who without sin threw the first stone”.
    We all have personal problems and no-one on this planet is prefect without problems. It’s 2009 and the haters are all still alive and well……..sad!

    Even though did not know him personally and I had heard of his problem, I loved him and his family as I do my own family. Micheal was truly my Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Anna Nicole Smith and James Dean.
    My heart goes out to his family and his children and their mourning of their GREAT son, brother, father, friend, and best performer. I will continue to play his music until my death and I will miss and remember him forever…. tragedy!!!

    Jerry in Tucson AZ

    June 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm |
  15. pat

    I am so sick and tired of people comparing Michael Jackson to
    Justin Timberlake!!!!! Justin does not have even 1/3rd the talent Michael had!!! There is no one that can dance the way he did, It did not look like he was cheerleading, he had rythm in every part of his body and it came out when he danced. It is a shame no one took the time to step in and help the young man out. He was clearly in need of some tender loving care, why didn't some one from his family lend a helping hand! Please no more compairing Michael to Justin!!!

    June 26, 2009 at 4:38 pm |
  16. Medina Marble

    While being deeply moved after hearing about the death of Michael Jackson, I have also been touched by the comments and statements
    of friends and other celebrities. Though I saw a film clip, I have heard no mention of Diana Ross by the media. Where is she? Were they still "in touch"?

    June 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm |
  17. agnes a. tan

    what a beautiful blog...what a beautiful moment you have had to share with Michael Jackson...I grew up in his generation since he sang "Ben", I was so taken with him and have been a fan ever since...Thank you for sharing and gave us fresh, new perspective of the person he was...it was a such a beautiful gift.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:30 pm |
  18. Corey

    I honestly wish that the media would leave Michael alone. The man died. Stop hashing up OLD news. Though he was excentric life...IT WAS HIS LIFE...why can not media just recoognize that he was a man first and foremost, second he molded style, art, life in a positive position. He has done so much good with his music. I hate the media pointing and sneering at how he lived his life. His door was closed for a reason and I feel that reason is because of the negitive image and attention the media played. His song said it best, 'just leave him alone!'

    June 26, 2009 at 4:25 pm |
  19. Karen from La Mirada

    Thank you for your lovely recollection. Although celebreties need their privacy, it is certainly refreshing to get this glimpse of his soul. May he truly have peace now...

    June 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  20. Jane Finnigan

    That story gave me goosebumps!

    June 26, 2009 at 4:19 pm |
  21. EVEE

    Thank you for sharing your experience–I can only imagine how awesome that moment was for you. I have always felt in my heart that Micheal was a misunderstood Human Being.. There was a great depth to his soul that I think many people missed; and only those who were close to him witnessed. Through his passing, I believe it will now be seen and explored even further around the world. God always has a way of getting the World's attention to focus on what is TRULY IMPORTANT! And believe Michael was all ready aware of that.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:18 pm |
  22. Taiwo - Big Tee

    The Golden Child died At a Golden Age … What can I say, R.I.P. M J and continue living wherever you are maybe you will find peace. You are a legend.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  23. mertz

    hi mona. thanks for sharing this with us!!!

    June 26, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  24. Tracie Leeds

    I am still in shock with these huge losses within the week but this was such a beautiful piece to honor his legacy. I know we were all anticipating his comeback especially those of us that never got the chance to see him in person. It was like a second chance to fullfill one of life's regrets. It is such a tragic day and the weather here in West Palm Beach is rainy and dreary. So fitting!!

    June 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm |
  25. Alyce Wilson

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:10 pm |
  26. yf35

    I know that MJ is a huge story and he had an amazing career, BUT I implore CNN not to fall into the trap of infotainment during such a crucial time in international affairs. Please, take the high road, keep you eye on the ball in Iran and keep supporting those who are risking their lives to stand up against oppression.

    I know Fox will got all MJ all the time (and ignore Sanford of course), but you might just give me a little faith in your network if you keep a reasonable amount of time to talk about Iran. There are 24 hours in a day, make the right choice.

    Thank you in advance

    June 26, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  27. An

    Hi Anderson.

    Hi bloggers.

    Wishing a chance to say Good bye to you when things come to you more lightner but now you are already died.


    June 26, 2009 at 4:09 pm |
  28. Joackim katerina

    I'm tanzania early twenties but throughout my upbringing i've related soo much to michael thru my parents and siblings. I just had to drop a word for as I write my eyes are swollen and tears running down my cheeks. I've never met MJ before neither have I gone to his concerts however we had a firm relationship thru his records I saw on tv or heard thru the radio or record player. I'm beyond amazement at the extension of his talent and the impact he has had to generations that follow him.. I'm beyond depression at the moment turning on the tv is even more depressing as my hurt keeps on sinking. If only angels could be human he would still be a live and a midst us but unfortunately we have a creator of which he has ascended to. Michael J I wish I could have had a chance to see u live cause u seem very warm n loving on telly those who were around u were very blessed to have u. When I look at your videos when u were six, u stroke me as a star for you shone thru that lovely bright face and sincere wide smile. Words are not enough to express but we have to come to terms with reality. God bless you Mj the greatest of all time. Love you!

    June 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm |
  29. Kathryn

    With all the media coverage and speculation over his life and death ..it is such a gift to read something a profoundly personal and beautiful..thank you

    Rest in peace Michael

    June 26, 2009 at 4:04 pm |
  30. Mark Kollar

    Thank you. What a beautiful story. I can't stop listening to his music all day and it brings back so many great memories of high school and college.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:01 pm |
  31. *Beenie*

    ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL !! I will always remember your story and how it made me feel. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:01 pm |
  32. Mary Gremillion

    That was lovely, Anderson. Thank you for sharing.

    June 26, 2009 at 4:00 pm |
  33. Beautifuladybug

    Thank you for sharing that it was beautiful and has me ready to cry again. This trumps all the negative things people/the media is saying. He will always be in our hearts, our souls and our ears. So, again thank you thank you thank you.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:59 pm |
  34. Lisa

    Mona, that is a beautiful story ! Thanks so much for sharing with us. We, the public, rarely get to see real human glimpses of celebrities, and this was just perfect on such a sad day...

    RIP Michael....

    June 26, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
  35. Allyson

    I am loving all these pieces of Micheal Jackson through others peoples eyes. The out pouring of stories and how he was a part of all of us puts a smile on my face. We all are a piece of the puzzle that is and was Micheal Jackson and will continue to be his Legacy. I only pray he knew the positive effect he had on all our lives and how powerful his music is/was and always will be.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:49 pm |
  36. Stacy

    What a beautiful tribute to a talented man whose music I have cherished throughout my life. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience with us.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:48 pm |
  37. Wendy

    I war shocked and sad: he did not give him one more chance to show his music to the world.
    Michael will be remembered.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  38. Carol Danto


    I may be very wrong, but I think Michael Jackson just bought a house in Albuquerque the other day.
    If it wasn't a brilliant political ploy to distract the world from the mess it is in, it should have been.
    Who else could, as a finale, unite people from Manila, Hong Kong, South Korea, London, Moscow etc but Michael Jackson?
    He was a genius in timing; perspective and friends with our President.
    Hmmm.........He had to buy a house that had enough property for horses....

    June 26, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  39. Terry Haack

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I have been such a huge fan of him since I was just a litte gal. I lived in a small town in Arizona and we only had one store there. My dad and I were shopping and I saw a white shirt with a sparkly glove on it. I just had to get it and my dad bought it. I wore it all the time. Thats just one of many stories I have. lol. He will never be forgotten.
    Terry <3

    June 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm |
  40. christine Mendoza

    That was awesome. Thank you for a real glimpse of Michael the man, father, and encourager! Your story will be the one I point people ti.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:44 pm |
  41. Jenna

    Thank you for sharing such a special moment & allowing the rest of his fans a glimpse at just how beautiful a soul Michael Jackson truly was.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:42 pm |
  42. Carol

    Beautiful memory, AC. Reading this brought some humanity and sincerity back to the whirlwind of sensationalism and false sentimentality surrounding Jackson's death. Thanks for sharing!

    June 26, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  43. Dana from NY

    A beautifully written piece- allowing us insight into the human being that was Michael Jackson. It saddens me that in life and now in death he is shrowded by controversy, assumptions, and riddicule- and its refreshing to read someones perspective on him just as a person- a good person- that although mysterious- his true fans knew him to be. So often we as "fans" fail to remember that famous stars are people too- and never take the time to respect "stars" simply as people.

    I thank you for sharing this story with all of us- you are lucky to have experienced such a moment- and we are lucky to have had you share it with us...

    June 26, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  44. Tellie

    What a beautiful story! As a pianist I know how wonderful that must have felt, congrats on getting the opportunity to play for The King of Pop. He will be surely missed.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:35 pm |
  45. shea

    That was beautiful. Thank You.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:33 pm |
  46. Beth from Petaluma

    What a special story that you shared with us. Thank you! You are so fortunate to have been able to spend time with Michael and his family and to play a piece of music that he would truly appreciate.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm |
  47. Donal Hall

    It seemed to me that he was such a good man. It makes me sick that people here in Oklahoma joke about him still, i got countless forwarded texts mocking his passing. Anyways, that was a nice memory to share. =)

    June 26, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  48. Kathy Redford

    Thank you for your beautifully, eloquently written portrayal of the simple, but profound humanity of Michael Jackson.

    June 26, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
  49. Anthonia-california

    Beautiful blog!
    RIP Michael Jackson

    June 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm |
  50. thaconoisseur

    Beautiful, just beautiful. 🙂

    June 26, 2009 at 3:25 pm |
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