Band of the Week: JoJo


AN EARLY START: Now 25, pop singer Joanna Levesque, who records and tours as JoJo, got an early start on her career. She had a No. 1 hit with her debut single, "Leave (Get Out)," when she was only 13, making her the youngest solo artist to have a No. 1 single in the U.S. She followed it up with a string of hits, and her 2006 debut, The High Road, topped the charts as well. JoJo, who grew up in the New England area, got a good dose of music from her parents. Her mother sang and her father, who she describes as a "Blues Brother," played guitar. "I always heard music in the house and became obsessed with it from as early as I can remember," she says. "I was a weird little kid who was definitely an old soul. I was loving Aretha Franklin and Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. I also liked Sly and the Family Stone and the Jackson Five. It wasn't until I was 10 that I started to figure out what was going on in the pop world."

THE FOLLOWUP ALBUM: When JoJo began to work on the followup to The High Road, she started receiving songs that other artists had written for her. She eventually realized she wanted to have more input and write the songs herself or at least collaborate directly with the songwriter. That proved to be a wise move as Mad Love, her first full-length collection in 10 years, has been a huge hit. It arrived last year in the wake of several years of legal dispute and a lawsuit filed against her former label. "I've been writing songs since I was a little girl," she says. "I realized I didn't want other people to speak for me."

WHY YOU SHOULD HEAR HER: "I Am," which she originally recorded last year, features just her and the piano. "It made me feel something really special," she says of the track. The percolating "Fuck Apologies" features rapper Wiz Khalifa, who was on tour in Europe at the time. He sent JoJo his rhymes from overseas and lays down a rap that stays true to the song's defiant spirit. "The song is really just about loving yourself and not making excuses or apologies for who you are and what you do and who you love and how to feel just to make other people feel comfortable. I thought Wiz was perfect for that collaboration because he's such an individual and lives that 'fuck apology' mentality." Another highlight, the electronic-heavy "I Can Only," features pop singer Alessia Cara. JoJo says she played the album for Cara before she played it for anyone else, and Cara picked "I Can Only" as the song she wanted to sing.


WHERE YOU CAN SEE HER: JoJo performs with Stanaj at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 30, at House of Blues.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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