On the Ground and in the Weeds with Daniel Alexander Jones 

To understand the blueprint of who Daniel Alexander Jones is as a multidisciplinary artist and thought leader, we have to go back to Springfield, Massachusetts during the Civil Rights era. This working class city bursting with factories was one of the stops on the Great Migration for families and people seeking work in order to escape the racial violence in states such as the Carolinas and Virginia.

Born in Springfield in the 1970s, Jones grew up in a household and neighborhood rich with cultural shades, sounds, music, flavors, and textures, all of which have influenced the work he does today. This melting pot enabled Jones to be in close proximity to Blackness across the African diaspora, from the South all the way to the Caribbean, while also living among community members from Poland, Italy, and other European countries.

Saturdays were a particularly potent time for Jones to get his daily dose of cartoons, cereal, Soul Train dance practices with friends, and soaking in the sonic diversity surrounding him. After working up a sweat, he went outside where he was greeted with Calypso tunes playing from a Jamaican friend, Italian Opera from the old woman across the street, and even gospel from the Trinity Baptist and AME parsonages close by.

Daniel Alexander Jones

“The community was small enough where everyone really got to know each other and care for each other as neighbors,” says Jones. “We all had a lot of love for each other growing up, even if we didn’t necessarily like each other. We didn’t all share the same political beliefs or views, but I feel so fortunate to have grown up with a sense of community that’s still very strong.”

Jones’ desire to cultivate community and usher in healing through art stems from his parents’ active involvement in their neighborhood. His mother’s side of the family are white Yankees of Scottish descent, while his father was a Black southerner from South Carolina. His mother, father, and grandmother were not only leaders in the community, actively working with young people at the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, but they were also involved with local politics.

“I think a lot of the work that goes into activism is invisible work,” says Jones. “Who goes and checks on people in their house? Who follows up when there’s a rumor in the community or neighborhood that somebody isn’t doing well? My folks were the ones who went to check on people…They were the people who were on the ground and in the weeds in everyday life.”

His family provided resources and guidance for individuals who weren’t being treated well by city authorities, and they were also the unofficial community therapists. Jones recalls frequently waking up on Saturdays to somebody at the kitchen table: sometimes it was the mailman, sometimes it was a neighbor, sometimes it was a stranger, but they came to tell his mother and grandmother their troubles.

I think a lot of the work that goes into activism is invisible work. Who goes and checks on people in their house? Who follows up when there’s a rumor in the community or neighborhood that somebody isn’t doing well?

Jones’ plays, recorded music, concerts, essays, and long-form improvisations center on the idea of holding a place where people can be themselves. Growing up seeing his parents create safe spaces for their community influenced him to do the same for Queer Black people like him, or individuals seeking healing, grounding, and connection. “We are in the midst of so many assaults on our spirit, on our soul, on our imaginations, and on our capacity to love one another,” Jones says. “I think about the people I grew up around and how their first impulse is to feed you, to give you some nourishment. I think the art I make is nourishment, and I want to offer that to people because my hope is that this leads to some type of healing.”

Attending Vassar College allowed him to begin building these intentional spaces. His first play, Earth Births Jazz and Raven Wings, explored the unspoken stories and traumas of his family’s experience in the South. From this, he birthed critically-acclaimed theater pieces, which eventually led to the emergence of his alter-ego, Jomama Jones.

Jomama Jones offers inspiration, information, confrontation, guidance, ancestral wisdom, and so much more. “Jomama Jones appeared to me in the summer of 1995 complete and whole,” says Jones. “She’s part guardian angel, part Orisha, part ancestor, and 100% a messenger. She’s not a character or a persona because I didn’t create her. I received her, and she tells me what to do, not the other way around.”

Jomama Jones--Photo by Angel Origgi

Jomama Jones–Photo by Angel Origgi

As a 2020-2021 Resident Artist at CalArts Center for New Performance, Jones created Aten, an album and interactive website featuring Jomama Jones. The unique title refers to the ancient Egyptian sun disc deity and is very specific to the energy of the sun that is beaming out to us and filling the space with light.

“My mom died last November; she was very ill throughout the summer,” says Jones. “I was not only thinking about her mortality, but also the nature of the soul, the nature of spirit, and the nature of our universe. Asking questions about where does the soul go? What is the solar system? That image of the solar system kept coming back, and so I decided to create songs for the planets, the sun, and the moon.”

Sonically, Aten is an amalgam of the mid-late 70s and 80s R&B, soul, disco, and pop genres Jones fell in love with growing up. Some of the influences that stand out in the album are Taste of Honey and Patrice Rushen, particularly within the production and structure of Mars: Hymn to Get Your Life, Moon: Hymn to the Undertow, and Earth: Hymn to Promise. The disco era was particularly influential because it was birthed from working class communities and Queer people of color. Much like Jones, they broke down barriers around sexuality and gender and came together to move energy and elevate the celebration of life.

With the help of some institutional partners, including CalArts, Jones filmed videos for each song, but realized he wanted more than an album and a few visuals. “I wanted there to be a place where we could also have conversation, reflection,” says Jones. “For example, Venus is the planet that we think about when we think about love and intimacy and beauty. So, one of the things that I invite you to do on the page for Venus is to write yourself a love letter, and to think about what it would be to give yourself the love and care that many people give others, but don’t give themselves.”

Aten creates space for listeners and viewers to share their personal journeys, which reflects Jones’ mission to build safe spaces for expression, sexual identity, and fluidity in gender. His artistic creations are like that friend that checks up on you in the midst of a deep unbearable struggle — they offer a place to rest, restore, and confide. Much like his parents’ activism during the Civil Rights era, Daniel Alexander Jones is on the ground and in the weeds, influencing his own community through music, being, and art.


I CARE IF YOU LISTEN is an editorially-independent program of the American Composers Forum, funded with generous donor and institutional support. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and may not represent the views of ICIYL or ACF. 

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