"The world has lost a genius and a true ambassador of not only pop music, but of all music," singer Justin Timberlake said as the icon's death aged 50, unleashed a torrent of tributes from fellow artists, from Madonna to Beyonce.
To the black music of his roots, soul, disco and the Motown funk of the Jackson Five, the "King of Pop" added the white ingredients of pop and rock, fusing them to conquer audience with a brand new sound.
This alchemy of black and white was behind his breakthrough album as a composer and co-producer, "Thriller," which pulled in performances from Paul McCartney or hard rocker Eddie Van Halen.
The 1982 album became the top-selling record of all time, with sales exceeding 41 million, coining a unique new sound and dazzling dance moves that influenced a generation of artists worldwide.
"Michael Jackson showed me that you can actually see the beat. He made the music come to life!! He made me believe in magic. I will miss him!" said fashion mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs, formerly the rapper Puff Daddy.
"Up until 'Thriller', MTV did not play 'black' music," said the DJ Bob Sinclar. "Michael Jackson brought black music into the mainstream, with a bang."
French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre paid tribute to his fusion of black and white sounds.
"Elvis was a white man who wanted to be black, and Michael was kind of the reverse. All great American musicians are ones that made the link between black and white music, and Michael was obsessed with that colour change, both physically and musically."
Shot by John Landis, the "Thriller" video also ushered in a whole new way of filming - and marketing - music, marking the 1980s even more than any other pop artist, even planetary superstars Madonna or Prince.
Jackson's close friend Liza Minnelli hailed him as a "genius talent, who revolutionised show business".
His career also mirrored the rise of the big major record companies, selling a total of 750 million records. His death comes as the industry is shaken on its foundations by the advent of the Internet.
Tommy Mottola, the former head of Sony Music who released Jackson's records for 16 years, said the singer had a place in the pantheon of American music.
"In pop history, there's a triumvirate of pop icons: Sinatra, Elvis and Michael, that define the whole culture," he told the Los Angeles Times.
"His music bridged races and ages and absolutely defined the video age. Nothing that came before him or that has come after him will ever be as big as he was."