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Jojo Baby, Chicago Nightlife Legend Who Inspired Decades Of Artists And LGBTQ People, Dies At 51

Jojo Baby has inspired decades of people and artists in Chicago who admired their creativity, kindness and strong sense of community.

Jojo Baby, an influential artist and one of Chicago’s original club kids, has died at 51 years old.
Glitter Guts
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CHICAGO — Jojo Baby, an influential artist and one of Chicago’s original club kids, has died at 51 years old.

Smartbar announced Jojo Baby’s death in a Tweet Tuesday, saying the artist was “near and dear to us all and to many in the drag community.”

“Jojo’s spirit will go unmatched,” and their “kindness, warmth and generosity will be sorely missed,” the bar wrote.

Jojo Baby was long a fixture in Chicago’s nightlife scene, performing at Debonair Social club in Wicker Park and hosting Queen!, Smartbar’s weekly Sunday night LGBTQ party in Lakeview. They became a legend and inspired decades of people who admired their artistry, kindness and strong sense of community.

Jojo Baby had recently started chemotherapy to treat their third cancer diagnosis, which was found in their liver, lungs and stomach, they told Block Club in November.

Credit: Glitter Guts
Jojo Baby, an influential artist and one of Chicago’s original club kids, has died at 51 years old.

The community rallied to support Jojo Baby, including by raising funds through their Paypal and Venmo accounts. SmartBar hosted a benefit show in December.

Jojo Baby remained active as an artist and drag performer, continuing to host nights at Queen! and displaying a collection of their hand-made dolls in a recent exhibition at Paris London Hong Kong, a private gallery in West Town.

The exhibition, named “The Bandages Are Off,” featured a scene of Jojo Baby’s hand-made dolls to tell visual stories, Chicago Gallery News reported. The name was inspired by Jojo Baby’s struggle with cancer, and the gallery featured works from years ago, as well as dolls they created between rounds of chemo.

In addition to working as a nightlife host and drag artist, Jojo Baby was a performer, multimedia artist, doll-maker and hairdresser.

They have been the subject of several books and films over the past decade, including a 2015 short documentary that focused on the artist’s history and gallery in Wicker Park.

“It’s like a glimpse into the past, before Instagram and building identities online,” producer Justin Moran told the Tribune in 2015.

The documentary follows Jojo Baby during a night out and features interviews with other drag queens and club kids who were inspired by the artist.

“Jojo is this entity that Chicago is really fortunate to have,” artist Nico says in the documentary. “I think drag today here in Chicago is totally because of Jojo doing this since I think since [14 years old].”

Jojo Baby grew up in Logan Square, where their mother came up with their nickname, according to a WBEZ feature on the artist. Jojo Baby’s mother worked as a bunny in Chicago’s Playboy Club to pay for medical school.

As a child, Jojo would tag along with their mother to her Mary Kay parties, where they learned how to do makeup, according to WBEZ. But Jojo Baby left home at 14 after their father said he didn’t want a gay person in the house.

After wanting to become a Franciscan monk and then dropping out of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, Jojo Baby started working at Shelter, an old nightclub in the Fulton River District, according to WBEZ.

They lived with other club kids and came up in Chicago’s nightlife scene working the doors, hosting parties, walking runways and creating art, according to WBEZ.

“I’m constantly absorbing everything from everywhere,” Jojo Baby told WBEZ. “I always said if you mixed Jim Henson, Clive Barker and Boy George in a blender, you’d get a Jojo.”

More tributes for Jojo Baby:

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