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. Liz from TN

    Mona, you must know from his response to your playing for him, that he was blessed by you also. Many people live their lives through completely. And, yet, they never learn what you learned that evening about the gift of spirit. I am glad you were there to serenade him. Keep giving, though your hands may shake! RIP Michael

    June 27, 2009 at 3:12 am |
  2. Nadine F Vela

    That was a beautiful story.. I can just see him giving you his undivided attention, you are very lucky to have had his friendship.

    June 27, 2009 at 2:56 am |
  3. Jonathan Wicks

    is why he is smileing love you all.

    June 27, 2009 at 2:45 am |
  4. Jonathan Wicks

    that the people who care

    June 27, 2009 at 2:44 am |
  5. Jonathan Wicks

    My prays are with the family. Michael jackson came in my life on tv was in 1988 is was a wonderful person. Words can not decribe how I feel Michael impact in music will live forever. God bless Michael and the family. Even though he is gone he is looking down from heaven and smileing. Love you jackson and family good bye my friend. Jonathan wicks

    June 27, 2009 at 2:41 am |
  6. Laura

    Isn't it a shame that all this out pooring of Love and kind words wasn't available to Michael when he was alive. Michael was such a sensative man, and had so much stress before he died. However, much of it was brought on himself by making poor choices. I sincerely hope he never molested those children and I think it is a real shame that we live in a world where things like that exist! It is also a shame that there are those who are so money motivate that they would make something up, just for money, at the risk of ruining another person and their reputation. The world is full of so much deceit that no one knows who to believe or who the real victims are. People forget that entertainers are people and have feelings also. I don't care who you are, if you saw your personal business and critisism advertised all over for everyone you know to see, it would hurt! At the end of the day we are all just human and not so very different. Most of us want the same things out of life, and should'nt we be thoughtful and kind to one another since we are all sharing the same planet. We really should treat other's the way we want to be treated. We should also think about the pain our gossip and critisism inflicts on others. I think Michael died of a broken spirit and heart way before he died.

    June 27, 2009 at 2:40 am |
  7. ayoko31

    Anderson, please don’t forget that Michael was also a great humanitarian, in the mist of trying to figure his death, let’s also pay respect to all the good that he’s also done for the world.

    June 27, 2009 at 2:37 am |
  8. Elle

    Thank you so much for sharing your touching story. This is by far the most beautiful story that I have heard or seen about Michael since his passing. I have always believed that Michael was the kind, compassionate, loving soul that you portrayed him to be. As sad as it is for Michael to leave this world too soon, I know he's in a much better, loving, peaceful place. (Imagine what the Angel Choir is going to be like now that HE's entered those "pearly gates" – : ) !!!) I'm so glad to have been a part of his generation that witnessed many incredible moments that he shared with the world. Again, thank you for sharing your story with us.

    June 27, 2009 at 2:23 am |
  9. Fariha Khalil

    Michael Jackson was an awesome human being even though i did not know him personaly. I am just a normal person that really wanted to meet Michael Jackson in person which i did not get to. I listen to his music all the time, he was and still is my favorite singer ever. May he Rest In Peace

    June 27, 2009 at 2:20 am |
  10. Fariha

    Michael Jackson was an awesome human being even though i did not know him personaly. I am just a normal person that really wanted to meet Michael Jackson in person which i did not get to. I listen to his music all the time, he was and still is my favorite singer ever. May he Rest In Peace

    June 27, 2009 at 2:18 am |
  11. Gina

    It is weird that if the dr. was in the room, why would he give MJ cpr on the bed and not on the floor??? If he is a dr, wouldn't he know?

    June 27, 2009 at 1:57 am |
  12. Laura

    I feel sorry for Michael Jackson. I blame his father for being so wrapped up in chasing the dollar that he worked his children and Michael especially, way to hard. Balance is very important in life. Work is important but so is childhood. I saw his concert in Irvine in the 1980's, I had sat up front, it was the best concert I had ever seen!! However, I remembered thinking that he was too emotional, which could have been from being emotionally imbalanced, drug use, or being too tired. Unfortunately, when these celebrities have too much money that society's rules don't seem to apply to them and when they are surrounded by too many "Yes Men" reality gets distorted. It is a shame that no one could save him! All the warning signs were there, what was missing was a really good friend or loved one to assert themselves and intervien. But would he of listened anyway? Could anyone have saved him from himself.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:56 am |
  13. Julia from Seattle

    Thank you Mona, for sharing your story/view of how humble MJ was in his life while enjoying your private concert. With this in mind I think he would be saddened to know any tribute to Farrah has been overshadowed by his passing. His human element surely would include a pin up poster of the Angel. I look forward to the footage from Johnny Carson with those icons we have lost this week if it exsists.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:56 am |
  14. Gina

    I love this blog. Michael Jackson will be missed by so many. He has touched lives through his music, and dancing, but also his kindness. I am deeply saddened by Michael Jackson's death. My heart goes out to his family, and may God be with them through this difficult time.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:56 am |
  15. Corey

    People try to compare Michael Jackson to Elvis fame wise, he will never be as famous as Elvis. He was a child molester and i belive that he took somthing that caused him to have cardiac arrest so he wouldnt have to go to court. And another reason i think he may have commited suicide is he was in the finacial hole about 400,000000. And the altopsy said he died from perscrition drug overdose. But my prayers do go out to the jackson family.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:55 am |
  16. Michael R Jones

    That's a great story...I've a lot of friends that worked with him over the years, most notably on "Thriller" and "Smooth Criminal" and they have all had similar stories of his humility and humanity. His professionalism is legendary and his devotion to his art and his fans is indisputable. We are all blessed to have lived within his orbit and experienced his sheer beauty.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:47 am |
  17. Rohn Wyte

    WOW, such a loss. I truely believe tt Micheal J was truly a magical gift for us all! Such an artist and change maker! I also believe that This world that we live in, choses to be very judgemental and oh so non forgiving in areas of difference! I also believe that perhaps, we are all here give the best we can and that's the true gift of living in this world!
    His legacy will surely live on and the world is a better place for his contributions! And my heart also mourns the loss of the Beautiful Farrah fawcett... SUCH STRENGHT and resolve. Transistions and blessings to cherise! Thanks

    June 27, 2009 at 1:45 am |
  18. fannie

    m j was the greatest performer ever and this act will b hard to follow

    June 27, 2009 at 1:26 am |
  19. Louie

    This is a very moving blog. Thank you for sharing that with the world. I'm sure that everyone who knew the King of Pop thinks this is just to sudden, including me. I hope everyone who knew Michael Jackson gives him the respect that he deserves.

    Michael Jackson is not just the King of Pop he is the KING OF MUSIC.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  20. C. Vincent RN

    During 911 call, the caller reported that the MD in attendance was "pumping" the victim, inferring that CPR was in progress. When caller was questioned by dispatcher, as to the location of the victim, he reported, "on the bed." Anyone trained in CPR would be cognizant of the fact that chest compressions during CPR are. ineffective on a soft surface, such as a bed, unless a board was placed under the victim.

    June 27, 2009 at 1:04 am |
  21. michele

    Mona, Mona, Mona, XOXO That was real......I always felt him to be humble, non confrontational, sensitive ........even with all his power and fame....

    June 27, 2009 at 12:45 am |
  22. Frank Ariel

    Media and Hollywood sensationalized his life to sell lots of records and expensive ad spots, and now they are sensationalizing his death to sell even more records and more expensive ad spots. Michael Jackson was without a doubt a great performer and entertainer. But, let's not forget that his odd lifestyle and weird habits, such as sharing bed with young boys, cast a dark cloud on his character as a decent human being. This month alone, we have lost 45 of our young soldiers in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Michael Jackson's life-style contributed to his own death. Why should we shed one tear more than we shed for those young men who die bravely every day fighting in defense of their country far from home in a foreign land?

    June 27, 2009 at 12:44 am |
  23. Sana AL Bustan

    Mona, you are so lucky you got the chance to meet him. Do youo have pictures you can share. Whemn I was young living in Kuwait I was head over heals about him. I have been crying for two days on and off. I wisah they could do a gathering in Tampa Fl.
    Once again thank you for letting people know how sweet and sincere he was

    June 27, 2009 at 12:33 am |
  24. Angie Cornett

    my prayers go out to the jacksons and i am so sad that it went down like it did i was a great fan of his i listened to all his songs but something is so fishy why a so called DOCTOR give Mr.Jackson CPR on a bed they dont need to be a DOCTOR.why the man could not tell the operator it is (Michael Jackson) instead he said it was a 50 year old man.well its so hard to belive why they didnt do something sooner.my heart gose out to the Jackson with love.


    June 27, 2009 at 12:30 am |
  25. Micki K

    Thank you for the beautiful story. What an honor to share your talent with someone like Michael. I have to tell you how my late afternoon played out yesterday. My daughter called to say she heard Micheal had passed away from a heart attack. I was devastated. Anyone who knows me on a personal level knows how much Michael meant to me. I had always felt I had this bond with Michael, maybe it is just because when I first seen him, I was a little girl and maybe it was because we are the same age, I don't know. I guess I must have made my impression on alot of family and friends because I received 13 calls last night from family here in Nebraska, California, Texas, and North Carolina . Everyone was so concerned about me, asking me how I was doing, if I needed anything, it was almost like a family member had passed away. My niece even came over with a bottle of wine, which I consumed the whole bottle while crying my eyes out. I went into work today and two of my co-workers started in with their negative comments on Michael, and I stopped them in their tracks and told them do not even say anything bad about Michael in front of me, I don't want to hear it. To all the people who have negative comments, all I have to say is when you are standing in front of Heaven's gates and wondering why you haven't been received, think of the kind of person you were and maybe you will realize you weren't perfect. God Bless you Michael, I will keep you in my prayers as I will all of your family.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:28 am |
  26. Tong Zheng

    A True Legend,but a Very Lonely, Sad and (I am not kidding) Childish (which is in a good way) Man who was looking for a way of life, a normal life maybe, but the most usual thing happened to be the most unusual to him. The tragic life paid for for his fame. Those who loved him, in fact, are the ones killed him. He meant to be a star–a true star, a real star. He, certainly, belonged to the sky, to the place which he called Neverland. R.I.P–MJ

    June 27, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  27. lita

    Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story. How fortunate you were to have had such a once in lifetime moment with a very special human being. Such a shame that hardly anyone understood him. I was lucky enough to see him perform in concert twice, what a thrill! No one could come close to the first class entertainer that he was.
    God will take care of him now. My family and I continue to pray for his children and his family.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:14 am |
  28. Beverley

    Thanks Mona Lisa for sharing those memories and for giving us an idea of who the real person was. Its just a pity that we now all come out to show how much we love him, now that he has left this world..he needed to feel that love while he was alive. So many stopped showing him love during the time of all the controversy, his record sales dropped during that time, jokes and "fun" was made of him...... I wish he knew how much he was loved, in life, as much as he is now receiving in death.
    MJ RIP.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:10 am |
  29. jay rowan

    he was simply a beautiful angel caught up in a man's body! May he finally rest in peace.

    June 27, 2009 at 12:03 am |
  30. Rene'

    We have discussed Michael's life, music, and habits both good & bad. The media & others are so focused on Michael's physical remains that are left but I have to ask: "What about his soul? This is the ultimate show-stopper! Is any-one concerned whether Michael had a active relationship with the Lord"? And whether his soul was at peace with God before his passing? Did he have any religious foundations? Michael was constantly depressed trying to create his own happiness and looking for the level of love that he freely gave to others w/o being leeched off of. I love Michael and his music but I have to wonder even now is he really at rest?

    June 26, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  31. Ed

    What a beautiful and well written story Mona Lisa! You must have some wonderful people in your life who inspire you to share such memories so eloquently...

    June 26, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  32. Mike

    I still can't figure him out. I grew up with his music was continually amazed by his talent. Recently I've only thought of him negatively because of the pedofile charges. I'm confounded, though. When Deepak Chopra basically eulogized him tonight on "In the Situation Room", I really wasn't really sure what to think. Dr. Chopra ardently expressed that Michael Jackson was pure. Maybe he was. At any rate, his talent is undeniable. I watched some of the old videos on youtube and had forgotten just how damn incredible he was in his youth.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  33. Rachel

    OMG - I loved the story you shared about Michael Jackson, how he listened so intently and had brought his children with him. I'm so glad he got to be a Dad. Thank you for that lovely story! Your story does show us a window into his soul.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  34. Dee

    Wow! Anderson said this was a great story but that was an understatement. Thanks a million for sharing this incrdible moment in time!

    June 26, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  35. ReeRee

    Thank you for sharing your experience with the world. His music was the sountrack of my youth too. RIP Michael, I'll always love you!

    June 26, 2009 at 11:50 pm |
  36. g

    thank you, thank you, thank you – for this beautiful story. makes us see how the real guy was. a shame we only appreciate and praise people after they're gone.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:49 pm |
  37. Ronald Michel

    James Brown : December 25th
    Aaliyah: August 25th
    Left Eye : April 25th
    Michael Jackson: June 25th
    What's up with that?
    Rest In Peace Michael !!!!!!

    June 26, 2009 at 11:48 pm |

    although i am a hugh micheal jackson fan, motown way before he came on to the musical scene, did much more to pave the way for black musicians and to dissolve the racial divide. all of this occured durinf the 1960's- before micheal jackson was on the scene.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:47 pm |
  39. Alex

    I am deeply sadden by the death of Micheal Jackson,growing up I can remember just really wishing I could dance and sing like Micheal,Never was able to so i grew an afro and had numerous photos of him trying to keep my afro in tack.
    May God be with his children and family,he's in a better place now,

    June 26, 2009 at 11:46 pm |
  40. Dianne Barnes

    You know the word of God says give honor to whom honor is due. (Romans 13: 7) Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due ; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Michael Jackson is a musician to be honored because of the gift and talent he received from God for which he did not waste, but increased. In the process he became a leader and the king of pop. He is also the first and only black man to be put in the world book of Gennis for his music. Just as any other historical person we respect and honor. He is in fact one of those. Namely the king of pop. A son also of my King. The King of kings has in his kingdom. The kingdom of heaven.

    Michael has been in my life all my life. I was born on Sept. 14 as he was, two years later. I have been listening to his music through out my life. I raised my kids up listening to his music. He is an example of what a musician is suspose to be. An inpiration to any young person who has that gift or simply pursing that career. His character and personality toward his fan is one a lot can take a lesson from. My son Jazz musician Jackiem Joyner whose single is number one on the Jazz charts; studied Michaels career and learned a lot about persistance, discipline, focus, and stage presence.

    He is worthy of the all the honor he is being given and than some. I pray for his family and I can feel their greif. I pray God comforts them with peace and serenity as they go through all this. I also send condolences to all those that are close to him. Remember his loving spirit will live on; in our hearts forever.

    Dianne, CA

    June 26, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  41. Adriana

    Michael Jackson is as iconic as the McDonald's brand is nationally and internationally. The world continues to struggle with the reality of his mortality. Thanks for the incredible music. Don't stop til you get enough...we'll never stop listening to you!!!

    June 26, 2009 at 11:32 pm |


    June 26, 2009 at 11:27 pm |
  43. Maureen from Maryland

    Thank you so much for sharing that touching story. I never met Michael but I always felt connected to him through his music. Your story depicted a beautiful man with a beautiful soul.

    Thank you so much for sharing your memory.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:24 pm |
  44. Korinthia D.

    MJ was a true legend no matter what people say he has changed the world for ever and always. He will live on as one of the greatest preformers alive.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:21 pm |
  45. Chandra

    Thank you Mona Lisa for the wonderful testament of the humility of Michael Jackson. You showed that although he was this huge celebrity, he was also a dad, a friend, and a man who simply appreciated moments of normalcy.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:18 pm |
  46. jamison

    Mona, thank you for sharing that sweet memory with Michael Jackson.

    It is so sad, often extremely talented people have a life of circumstances most of us have no way to know or understand. Even more sad, their lives are cut early. Michael won't have the opportunity to recover. But what can we learn from this–let those whom we love know it while they are alive. Tell them, show them, live it.
    Showing love and enabling are not the same.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
  47. Dr Sheriaza

    Thank you so much Mona for this sincerely written piece. This just shows how kind and loving Michael was to children in particular. I have never and will never believe all the unkind accusations about him. May ALLAH bless your soul Mikaeel(Michael). REST IN PEACE.

    June 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm |
  48. patricia karen quammie

    MY heart goes out to the family and friend.I just want to say the lord see you were tired and it time for you to go and take are rest i am a fan of the king of pop since i was born u are gone but not for gotten you music will live on for all eternity he a not alone all thou is so far apart will still have him in our heart i love you and we miss you

    June 26, 2009 at 11:11 pm |
  49. licia

    If I had ever had the chance to play the piano for micheal i would be
    noone would ever could step in his footsteps kiong of Soul,Jazz,classical and of course Pop his away from all the sufferinging in this world that many people cause.weelove micheal and aways will a songwritter angelic singer tremendous dancer and the most dreamiest person a warm smile and a loeabl soul R.I.P MJ

    June 26, 2009 at 11:06 pm |
  50. Jana, California

    I do hope she reads this. I have to give TREMENDOUS CREDIT to what Lisa Marie Presley stated earlier today. I HIGHLY commend her, for her honesty, for her heartfelt statements of Michael. She has class, and, although the last two days have been horribly hard for her as well, once again, she showed her compassion, not only in her words but the deep feelings that came with them. Excellently stated.

    Thank you Lisa Marie. My thoughts are with you during this difficult time too.

    June 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm |
1 2 3 4 5