Jomama Jones walked confidently across the stage with the saxophone blaring, lights shining and crowd screaming. She wore full, natural hair, a blue glitter dress and a killer smile.
But all the flamboyance and flashiness was only a part of the spectacular show that is “Radiate,” performed to a full audience in Thorne Hall on Friday, Sept. 26. “Radiate” is the brainchild of artist Daniel Alexander Jones, whose alias “Jomama” is the star of the show.
This is “Radiate’s” fourth year—it has been showcased across the country, from Texas to New York. Jones, an Albert Award in the Arts recipient, is this year’s G. William Hume Fellow in Theater. Named after Hume, an Occidental alumnus from the class of 1950, the fellowship annually allows one artist from a theater or music background to live and work on campus for two weeks.
Jones’s alter-ego was created out of a lineage of artists that he loves, including Diana Ross and Josephine Baker. Each year, the show is altered to parallel current world controversies to keep it alive. This particular performance utilized local musicians, including composer Dr. Bobby Halvorson and even members of the Occidental Glee Club.
“It was an awesome experience,” Glee Club member London Murray (first-year) said. “Daniel Alexander Jones is amazing. He made sure we all felt comfortable around each other. From the first rehearsal we all felt very connected.”
The show opened with Jomama Jones announcing to the audience that she was back in America after living in Switzerland with her beloved goats. Between each infectious song, she shared small, fictional anecdotes, such as the time she bought Michael Jackson a pet monkey or knocked Prince off the charts. Additionally, she interacted with the audience throughout the show by chatting with members and holding their hands.
But “Radiate” is not simply a comedic musical. Behind Jomama Jones’ ability to captivate an audience is the far-reaching message embedded in the character.
“In whatever way I can, I want to contribute to bringing people together over perceived boundaries. I hope to connect with people and meet all those that came out to see the show,” Jones said.
The deafening applause and standing ovation indicated there was no shortage of appreciation from the audience, and that Jomama Jones had clearly established a bridge between herself and her viewers.
“There was definitely a sense of community. I think the message was to engage in radical self-care through the community,” audience member Adrian Adams (sophomore) said.
Much of the show and Jones’ other works have deep roots in Daniel Alexander’s childhood memories and experiences. Jones grew up in the working-class, immigrant city of Springfield, Massachusetts. Born to a South Carolinian, African-American father and white, Massachusettes-born mother, Jones’ family was often judged by the more conservative community members. Yet according to Jones, this diverse immigrant community also fueled his appreciation for music.
“It primed me to pay attention to different sounds,” he said.
Jones touched more on his colorful background in a reading of his lesser-known short stories on Sept. 23 in Lower Herrick. Most of his writings focus on the United States’ current post-integration society. His first piece centered on a young boy obsessed with digging into his family’s Southern roots and a father who would rather forget where he came from.
“My father never talked about the South,” Jones said, demonstrating the connections between his personal upbringing and his art.
Jones is also fascinated by the idea of transforming into another person, which is what drew him to theater and acting.
“I know the work is working when the character changes your habits, your bones, your breathing,” he said. “This act of pretend, of storytelling, is part of what makes us human.”
Jones’ artistry, intelligence and kindness is what drew Occidental theater professor Laural Meade toward his work. According to Meade, “At the end of the day, he lands on compassion and love, which are so rare. In his teachings and writings he cares about social justice.”
Also a professor at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, Jones’s passion for teaching comes from his desire to connect a new generation of students to their history. By doing so, he hopes the youth will not fall into making the same mistakes as his generation.
“I believe every artist should be in touch with the world they live in, and teaching gives me that opportunity,” Jones said.