By Cynthia Gross
Multifaceted creative and DMV native Joseph Michael Jones is one of a kind. Effortlessly blending the roles of visual artist, author, playwright, actor, musician, and industry professional, he demonstrates the freedom that comes from creating a life on your own terms in which you settle for being nothing less than your authentic self.
Learn more about Joseph Michael Jones’ exciting journey with contributing writer Cynthia Gross, including his favorite memory from working as manager of the DC9 Nightclub, how he navigates intersections surrounding his identity as a queer Black man, and the most important lesson he has learned during his growth process as an artist.
Ever since he can remember, Joseph Michael Jones loved music and film, noting that he has been singing and dancing from childhood. His early influences include Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson – better yet, the entire Jackson family. “I’m named after Michael Jackson vaguely per my family, and that’s where part of the obsession comes from,” Jones said from his home in Georgia, where he relocated recently to be near family and work through mental health challenges. One of his favorite contemporary bands is Coldplay who Jones saw perform live earlier this month at FedEx Field.
Jones also cites award-winning filmmaker Wes Anderson, legendary singer Al Green, and renowned poet James Baldwin as inspiration. “I would love to play James Baldwin in a role. He’s unapologetic, queer, and a person. I love that,” Jones added. Not one to dream idly without setting the desired outcome in motion, Jones is actively working to bring his vision to fruition by writing his own film script.
Upon graduating from high school, Jones enrolled in the arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was eventually kicked out because he was unable to keep up with rising tuition costs as an out-of-state student. However, it turned out to be for the best.
Jones continued his studies at the National Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, where he reconnected with theatre and began to star in D.C. productions. It was here that the beginnings of his latest television script were born. “’Be Happy’ is loosely based on my life and stories I have been through with my friends in D.C., dealing with mental health, and trying to be my authentic self, which is a thing I’m obsessed with in general,” he explained about the provocative, thought-provoking script.
In addition to his theater chops, Joseph Michael Jones is an accomplished musician, photographer, writer, and respected industry professional. “I like doing everything,” he explained. “Maybe one day, I’ll do photography, and the next day, I’ll focus on writing, then the next day, I’ll focus on singing. Sometimes a little bit of everything at the same time.” When asked what creative form grounds him, Jones said that it is decidedly music, which he considers his first love. “Music has always been a place where I feel my most comfortable. It can change my mood immediately.” Jones joked that his end-of-year Spotify playlist is “wild and absurd,” spanning Italian rap, Palestinian pop, and everything in between.
When listening to music, Jones finds himself analyzing production elements, which he can do for hours on end with a single song. “I’ve always liked finding the little notes and hearing the background singers,” he shared. “If I hear a ding in the background, I’m like, ‘why is that there?’ That’s the way I approach all of my art: how do I dissect it in order to separate and then make the puzzle into something I would like?”
A love of music is what attracted Joseph Michael Jones to DC9 Nightclub, where he worked his way up from security, to barback, to bartender, and ultimately, bar manager. During his 9 years at the venue, Jones made lasting connections with the eclectic talent and larger DMV scene.
“What I always love about DC9 is that it’s so inclusive…I hope I’m saying the right word,” he laughed. Jones recalled an unforgettable moment from his experience at the nightclub. On a rainy, slow evening, Jones and the other staff were getting bored since there was no show booked. They proceeded to the jukebox to pass the time, selecting “Purple Rain” as the first song.
“Soon, someone else started playing another song with rain, and then, we made this whole playlist about rain,” he recounted. “It was not just us. Everyone started gathering together and putting their own songs on the jukebox. A whole lot of rain songs, and even asking ourselves if this or that was the right song – because it’s water, not rain?” The magical occurrence, which created regulars of out-of-town guests, went on for several hours until the club closed.
“Moments like that happen so many times at DC9,” said Jones. “I’ve never found it anywhere else. I’ve worked at other venues, but there’s not been as much community and inclusivity, trying to bring people together from all aspects of the world.”
The same sensitivity that informs Jones’ approach to music influences his connection to others, which he admits sometimes causes him to overthink things. “I cannot just say ‘hi’ without someone thinking, ‘is that an offensive hi?’” For that reason, Jones strives to be “ambivalent” and focus on building meaningful relationships with individuals who share similar values.
Joseph Michael Jones understands that he represents a number of identities on which society does not hesitate to place its judgment: Black, male, gay, artist. When asked how he navigates the intersections, Jones said, “I put a lot of emphasis on being gay, being Black, and just being myself. I know the first two can be very polarizing. I’m very weird as a person in general, so I stick with that mainly. I say it all the time, I’m just Joseph.”
On multiple occasions, people have told Jones that he is not Black enough, gay enough, or artist enough, but he does his best not to let the criticism deter him from being his authentic self, untethered from society’s expectations of what is normative. “I definitely get caught up in what people tell me I am and what they think that I am,” said Jones.
“I had to unlearn how to be okay with not being – I guess I’m still learning it – just because someone isn’t seeing you as something doesn’t mean you’re not that.” For example, “Even though I’m not as popular as Mahershala Ali doing Moonlight, I’m not acting in mainstream, or pulling out number one hits, just because I’m not getting notoriety doesn’t mean I’m not who I am.”
In recognition of Pride Month, Joseph Michael Jones encouraged his fellow community to rise above anything designed to limit their potential. “Those intersections – being queer, gay, trans, and being a person of color – don’t let those be a hinder. Don’t let those be a weight. Let them be your wings.” Perhaps truer words have never been spoken.
In the coming months, Joseph Michael Jones will focus on completing his debut EP, writing his second book, and finalizing the script for “Be Happy,” which was accepted for a TV feature. Follow Jones to stay up to date, and be sure to support his body of published work: view Darkroom Gallery (art), read “I THINK TOO MUCH” (book), and listen to his collection of originals and covers.
Maryland-based singer-songwriter Cynthia Gross seeks to inspire an awakening to all we are and all we can become. With a passion for language in all of its forms and more than a decade of experience as a professional ghostwriter, she is a light seeker who understands the power of each individual’s voice to create positive, meaningful change.
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