RALEIGH -- The public mourning of Michael Jackson's death reached its apex with Tuesday's memorial service in Los Angeles, which drew reported six-figure throngs to the area around the Staples Center. Things were far more low-key in Raleigh, where several hundred people gathered for a remembrance service.
There were many multiples more empty chairs than people inside the cavernous Raleigh Convention Center. That added up to a financial disaster for event organizer Bruce Lightner, who thought the event would draw at least 5,000 people. The actual turnout was less than a tenth of that, which Lightner said that left him with $20,000 in bills to cover rent and expenses.
"I don't know where the money's coming from," he said afterward. "I'll probably have to get a loan from the bank to pay it off. Right now I feel like crawling under a rock. I'm hurt that our community didn't come out to celebrate Michael's life together. But I've learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes you have to say no. It was a mistake on my part to attempt to do this."
As for those who did show up, they came wanting to make one last show of paying tribute to what local pastor David C. Forbes called "the one and only Michael Jackson, king of pop" in his invocation. Everyone there agreed that Jackson's music and performances transcended race and brought people together, despite the controversies that dogged him over the past decade.
"I did not know Michael personally, but his music has always been in my home," said Penny Reaves, 47, a schoolteacher from Fayetteville. "I just pray his family makes it through this. They have the support of the whole world because he was a world icon, an ambassador to the world."
Along with speakers and a video tribute, the Raleigh gathering featured live performances by Timika Shields, Stanley Baird Trio and the Martin Luther King, Jr., All Children's Choir. After the local program concluded at about 1:15 p.m., the convention center's video screens tuned into a live feed of the funeral services from Los Angeles.
Kim Daniels, 39, who runs a cleaning service in Raleigh, remembered some of Jackson's other famous moments on video.
"My most memorable moment of Michael would be remembering the world premiere of his 'Billie Jean' video on MTV," Daniels said as her 19-month-old son played nearby. "I'd meet with friends every time he premiered a new video, and it was like the whole world would stop for him."
Not surprisingly, the best music heard was Jackson's own. Before the live program began around noon, a deejay spun a set of Jackson songs -- "Beat It," "Black or White," "Off the Wall" -- and people got up to dance. "Man in the Mirror" even inspired an impromptu sing-along, as people joined hands and formed a line.
Even at his own funeral, Jackson can still fill a dancefloor.