Janet Jackson was born in Gary, Indiana, daughter of Katherine Esther (née Scruse) and Joseph Walter Jackson. She is the youngest of nine children. The family was of lower-middle-class and devout Jehovah's Witnesses. By the time she was a toddler, Janet's older brothers: Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael had already begun to perform on stage at nightclubs and theaters as the Jackson 5. In March 1969, the group signed with Motown Records, and by the end of the year the group recorded the first of their four consecutive number-one singles. The Jackson 5's success allowed the entire family to move to the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles, California in 1971. The Jacksons settled in a gated mansion that they referred to as "Hayvenhurst."
As a young child, Janet's career aspiration was to be a jockey. However, after the Jackson 5's success began to diminish, Joseph decided to bring use the rest of the children in the act. On April 9, 1974, Janet made her debut performance at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, alongside her eight older siblings. Janet quickly became a standout in the show, winning over crowds and critics with impersonations of Cher, Marie Osmond, Toni Tennille and Mae West.
In 1976, the Jackson family's Vegas act had caught the attention of CBS president Fred Silverman. The network was desperately trying to find a new variety act to replace its recently defunct The Sonny & Cher Show. Debuting on June 16, 1976, The Jacksons became the first television variety show starring an African-American family. The series lasted two seasons. As the 1980s began, Janet continued her career in television, in the sitcoms: Good Times, A New Kind of Family and Diff'rent Strokes, as well as the primetime drama Fame.