Crusader Staff Report
Ja’net DuBois, the actress who helped make “Good Times” a hit television sitcom in the 1970s, died Tuesday, February 18 at her home in Glendale, California. She was 74.
“Good Times” was about a poor, working class family living in a public housing project in Chicago. The name of the project was never given in the show, but it was widely believed the show was modeled after the demolished Cabrini Green housing project on the Near North Side.
DuBois starred as the sexy, confident, gossipy, “Willona Woods” in the Norman Lear-created series. On the show, she lived in the same building as the Evans’, a Black family, who persevered as they struggled to make ends meet. The show connected with Black viewers across the country.
On many occasions, Woods would visit her neighbors to talk about the latest news affecting residents in the building. At one point on the show, Woods adopted Penny, a Black girl who was physically abused by her mother. Penny was played by pop singer Janet Jackson.
DuBois composed and sang the theme song, “Movin’ On Up,” for another Lear series, “The Jeffersons” (1975), a sitcom about a Black couple who moved to New York’s Upper East Side while owning a successful chain of dry cleaners.
DuBois has appeared in many films, including the blaxploitation parody, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), as a tough and loving mother. She has also done voice-over work for which she received two Emmys.
Born Jeannette DuBois in Brooklyn, New York, DuBois began her acting career in theater during the early 1960s, appearing in plays such as “Golden Boy” alongside Sammy Davis Jr. and Louis Gossett Jr., in “A Raisin in the Sun.”
DuBois’ early television acting credits include the 1969 television movie “J.T.” and the long–running television soap opera, “Love of Life.” Her 1970-1972 role as Loretta Allen on that show made her the first African-American female as a regular cast-member on a daytime serial. In 1970, DuBois appeared as Vera in the film “Diary of a Mad Housewife.”
Television producer Norman Lear saw DuBois in a Lanford Wilson play “The Hot l Baltimore” at the Mark Taper Forum, which led to her being cast in the 1974-1979 CBS comedy series “Good Times.”
DuBois recorded the album “Again, Ja’Net DuBois,” on her Peanuts and Caviar label, in 1983. DuBois appeared in former “Good Times” co-star Janet Jackson’s 1987 “Control” music video as her mother.
In 1992, she co-starred alongside Clifton Davis in “And Still I Rise,” a play written and directed by Maya Angelou. DuBois won a CableACE Award for her work on the TV movie, “Other Women’s Children,” based on the novel by Perri Klass, and she also won two Emmy Awards for her voiceover work on the animated program “The PJs” (1999).
She co-starred in “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” (1988) and “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” (2003), and on television in “Moesha,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” “A Different World,” and “The Wayans Bros.”
DuBois had four children: Rani, Kesha, Provat and Raj Kristo Gupta, who died of cancer in 1987 at age 36. Her daughter Rani is also an actress who appeared on an episode of the 1970s sitcom “What’s Happening!!.”
During the 1980s, DuBois operated the DuBois Academy of Theater Arts and Sciences, which was a performing arts school for teenagers in Long Island, New York. In 1992, DuBois, Danny Glover and Ayuko Babu co-founded the Pan African Film & Arts Festival in Los Angeles. The Pan African Film & Arts Festival showcases global films about people of African descent and fine arts.
She was a community activist whose DuBois Care Foundation’s mission aims to empower youth by supporting afterschool programs. DuBois was also a painter who regularly exhibited her work. She released a CD in 2008, “Hidden Treasures,” which includes the well-known TV theme song, “Movin’ On Up.”