The news went out yesterday through multiple sources that Ja’Net DuBois has passed away. There are multiple spellings of both her first and last name in the public record, and many conflicting birthdates, but all agree that she died yesterday of natural causes (which frankly make the most recent year sometimes given as her birthdate, 1945, also the most unlikely one, as does her first Broadway credit in 1960, as she would have been 15 at the time).
At any rate DuBois is known for two particular credits: playing the sassy neighbor Willona on Good Times (1974-1979) and for co-writing and singing the gospel influenced theme song to The Jeffersons, “Movin’ on Up”. It is said that Norman Lear had seen her in the Mark Taper Forum’s production of Hot L Baltimore, which he was then adapting into a sitcom. While he didn’t cast her in that show, he did cast her on Good TImes.
DuBois’s first Broadway show was Lloyd Richard’s adaptation of Richard Wright’s The Long Dream in 1960, which also featured Clarence Williams III of The Mod Squad. Four years later she was in the musical version of Golden Boy with Sammy Davis Jr. Her first movie was the jazz drama A Man Called Adam (1966), also with Davis, as well as Ossie Davis, Louis Armstrong, Cicely Tyson, Mel Torme, Peter Lawford, and Frank Sinatra Jr. This was followed by the TV movie, J.T. (1969) starring 11 year old Kevin Hooks as a Harlem boy who takes care of stray cat. (DuBois played his mom). In 1970 she became the first African American regular on a soap opera, Love of Life, a gig that lasted through 1972. Other TV credits over the years have included Sanford and Son, Shaft, The Blue Knight, Kojak, Roots: The Next Generation, The Love Boat, The Facts of Life, A Different World, True Colors, Beverly Hills 90210, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Sister Sister, ER, Home Improvement, Touched by an Angel, The Wayans Brothers, Everybody Loves Raymond, Crossing Jordan and Cold Case. Her other movies included Five on the Black Hand Side (1973), A Piece of the Action (1977), I’m Gonna Get You Sucka (1988), Heart Condition (1990), Don’t Look Back (1996), and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003). She also recorded several record albums as a singer. Her last professional screen credit was the 2016 film She’s Got a Plan.