Buffalo’s own Mary Jane Girl, Joanne “JoJo” McDuffie will return to her hometown to headline the 14th annual N.I.C.Y.O Funk Fest tribute to Rick James August 25th in LaSalle Park from 3-10 p.m. Also appearing on stage will be L.A. Sky Stone City Band, Delivered, The Unity Band, Delvin Payton & Lyfe, Erik Hearts, Uncle Willie and the Taste of Life Band, Denzell Ward & Cool Platinum. The second annual Jefferson Avenue Block Party, a huge success last year, will start with a Prayer and Peace Rally at 5 p.m. on Friday, August 24 followed by the street party from 6-10 p.m. Bring the Love!
Although JoJo appeared at the Fest briefly last year, performing as the headliner next weekend will be special. “I’m so excited to be coming back,” she said during a brief interview with The Challenger. “The last time I was in Buffalo performing professionally was in 1983 with Rick and The Mary Jane Girls at the Aud!” “I’ve been all over the world, but It’s a real honor to come home and be able to perform before family and friends!”
JoJo was born and raised in Buffalo. She attended Buffalo public schools and earned her degree from Buffalo State College. Although her career goal was to become a teacher, she had a very real passion and talent for singing; performing regularly as a popular vocalist in area night clubs. “Singing was a God-given gift,” she said. She trained herself by listening to records by Aretha Franklin, Pattie LaBelle, Gladys Knight and other greats.
As a young adult she sang at her home church Mt. Ararat on Jefferson Avenue under the pastorship of the late Rev. W.L. Jones. “He was the first person to put my voice on the radio,” she said. Before each of his weekly radio shows he would use a song she sang in the choir called “Changed.” -The Meeting- JoJo’s friend Oscar Alston, Rick’s premier bass player and a member of The Stone city Band, introduced them while she was working at Record Theatre. Rick was looking for a background singer and Oscar recommended her. She auditioned at his Orchard Park studio. The rest is history. “He gave me the job on the spot” she recalled.
“Three months after I earned my BA degree (in Social Science) I was on the road with Rick!” “We got along very well. The creative process was amazing with him. He was innovative in everything he did; music, vocals, the engineering…I learned invaluable lessons about recording during those times…and so much about song writing.”
JoJo was later chosen to be the lead vocalist for the 80’s R&B/pop sensation “The Mary Jane Girls,” whose hits included “Candy Man,” “All Night Long,” and the international hit “In My House.” She also sang backing vocals for Barry White and Anita Baker. In addition to being a premier vocalist, she is a songwriter whose credits. Include a television music composition for the hit TV show “Criminal Minds,” as well as writer and a composer of various other musical projects. Rick, who is credited with propelling Motown into the 80’s “with rhythm, rock and attitude,” had a major falling out with the. iconic record company which led to the Mary Jane Girls’ break up.
-Still Making Music-
She said that she and Rick remained friends even after the group disbanded, but that she didn’t hear from him until 10 years later. For a brief while she admitted being somewhat disillusioned about the industry. But in 2011 she joined up with another former Stone City Band Member, saxophonist Danny LeMelle and recorded a crossover/jazz album, “Slightly Dangerous,” featuring many of the classics and showcasing her beautiful vocals. JoJo currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is still making music, performing and song writing.
“A lot of people have had a lot to of not-so-nice things to say about Rick, but I didn’t experience that,” she reflects. “I experienced more of the creative side…. his spiritual side…and I treasure that to this day. Towards the end the substance abuse was abusing him, and it got a little crazy, but I understood and there is no animosity in my heart because I saw him being destroyed by it firsthand.” “I’m grateful and honored to be able stand next to somebody that was great and who paved the way for a lot of us…and I was one of those people.” JoJo was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1999. “I just live here (Los Angeles)…” she was quoted as saying. “Buffalo is my home!”