Los Angeles (CNN) -- Michael Jackson's life began on August 29, 1958, as the seventh child in a family crowded into a tiny home in Gary, Indiana.
His mother remembers "a sweet little child" who showed unusual empathy for others and who was born to sing and dance.
Katherine Jackson, 83, shared intimate stories about her son's early days when she testified earlier in the trial of her lawsuit against AEG Live, the concert promoter she accuses of liability in his death four years ago.
Her lawyers are asking a juror to award Jackson's mother and three children at least $1.6 billion to replace the lost income they argue he would have earned touring the world if he had not died while preparing for his comeback concerts on June 25, 2009.
Jackson would have just completed a world tour of his "This Is It" shows and likely would have begun making movies with his children Prince, Paris and Blanket if he had lived to see this 55th birthday Thursday, according to testimony in the trial.
Michael Jackson's humble start as the son of a steel mill worker in a large family is a remarkable contrast to the pop icon who spent lavishly, but also set world records for giving to charity.
Their first home had just two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a small utility room for the washing machine and freezer. Michael and his four older brothers slept in stacked bunk beds in one bedroom, the parents in the other, while the daughters slept in the living room, the Jackson matriarch testified in an earlier court session.
The mother made some of their clothes, watched newspapers ads for sales and visited the Salvation Army store for shoes. "We made it that way," living pay day to pay day, she said.
When father Joe Jackson was laid off from his steel mill job he would go out of the city to farms to pick vegetables that his wife would can and store. "Every year we would buy a quarter of a cow or half of a cow and keep it in the freezer," she said. "And that's how we survived."
Young Michael saved his "little pennies and nickels" to buy candy and cookies, but he wouldn't eat it all, his mother said. "He liked to play 'store man.' He would take it and put it and set up a little store, and all the kids in the neighborhood would come and buy from him, and he felt like he was the store man."
When older brother Marlon became ill, 3-year-old Michael held his hand and cried, she said.
Michael's musical talents were obvious at a very early age. "He was born that way," she said. "When all the kids were dancing around, he was in my arms, and he couldn't be still. He was dancing, too, to the music. And when he started to walk, he would still dance."
She's told the story of Michael's interaction to her "old, rickety washing machine, a Maytag."
"It would make a rhythm noise, like 'squeaky, squeaky, katum, katum,' something like that, and he would be down there dancing, sucking his bottle to the squeaking of the washer," she said. "And I knew he was going to be -- he just loved music, and he loved to dance."
The family's old television set helped bring the brothers together as a singing group, she said.
"Sometimes it would break down," his mother said. And sometimes they would not have money to get it repaired. "And that's when the children first started singing. We would sing together, sing old country songs, folk songs."
Michael was five when he joined his brothers in talent contests at local high schools. "They had got so that they won all the contests -- every time there was a contest," she said.
When their group needed a name for an advertisement, their mother came up with "The Jackson Brothers 5." But the woman who was writing the ad suggested she "cut that a little short and name it 'The Jackson 5,'" she said. "And I thought it sounded better."
Michael's first solo performance was when he sang "Climb Every Mountain" in a kindergarten program when he was five, she said. "I was so nervous when he walked out on the stage, because he was always shy. He started singing the song, and he sang it with such clarity and didn't miss -- not flat or anything."
His paternal grandfather, who was in the audience "cried like a baby, looked around, and I was crying, too," she said. "He got a standing ovation for his performance and he wasn't nervous. I was shocked. I think he must feel more at home on stage."
Older brother Jermaine was the Jackson 5's lead singer from the start, but their mother told her husband it should be Michael. "I told him Jermaine needed help, and I told him Michael could help him," she said. "He didn't believe me, so I forced him to listen. And that's how Michael got the job."
The boys rehearsed in their living room. "We would push all the furniture back on the walls, and they would dance and set up the drums and things and rehearse right there," she said.
Instead of moving to a larger house as the family grew, they used any extra money to buy musical instruments. Katherine Jackson made their performance costumes.
Michael was nine when Motown signed the Jackson 5 to a recording contract and moved the boys to California, she said,
While much is made about Michael Jackson missing out on a normal childhood because of the constant touring and recording, his mother's stories suggest he always found a way to have fun.
Jackson recorded the title song for the 1972 film "Ben" -- a story about a young boy and his rat friend."He liked that song because he liked rats," his mother said. "I can remember a story that we went to Beverly Hills to have dinner and we were eating. Michael kept pulling his coat up and putting crumbs into his pocket. I said 'What are you doing?' and he held it up and he had a rat in his pocket. He was feeding it. I was really upset with him."
Katherine Jackson was not in court Thursday to hear the day's testimony because she was in Gary for her son's birthday celebration.