There is a popular Texas slogan that says, "Everything's Bigger in Texas". Nothing could be more truthful when it comes to Jaha whose unique name means dignity.
Being born the youngest of ten, Jaha entered the world on an August 10th morning in a big way, being born the youngest of ten children. She grew up in a home that was full of encouragement and love for one another, as well as love for the performing arts.
Her family’s front porch served as a community theater where relatives, friends and neighbors from blocks away, often gathered to watch the shows performed by Jaha’s family. The productions included anything from cheer and dance routines, to singing and acting or whatever talent you bought to the show. Her siblings and their friends called her to sing and dance even when she was not up to the task.
While still in her youth, she developed an appreciation of music as she listened to her parent’s favorite artists such as, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin, and her older sibling’s favorites from Elton John to Marvin Gaye, the Temptations to Earth Wind and Fire. The exposure to so many styles of music gave Jaha a broad awareness and an ear for different music genres.
Along with performing during her early years, Jaha also developed a love and appreciation for children though she was still a child herself. Her family would often say to her, “You always have a baby on your hip or the kids hanging off your legs.” At the age of twelve, her first job was at a summer camp for children.
As a teenager, life bought Jaha a series of severe trials. At age fourteen, she suffered the devastating loss of her mother due to chronic illness. At age fifteen she was a victim of domestic violence. Her boyfriend (at the time) shot her six times at point-blank range. Bullets riddle her body entering her left thigh and the left side of her jaw. The majority of the bullets remain lodged in her body. After the shooting, doctors told her that more than likely: she would not be able to dance again; she would not be able to talk; surely could not sing and would barely be able to swallow. Astonishingly, the paralysis of her left leg and the disfigurement of her face could not crush her spirit. Even through pain, she never lost her joy. Jaha miraculously recovered rapidly and was released from the hospital before the week was out. At home alone Jaha would jokingly say about herself: “I look like the elephant girl.”
No longer seeing a future for herself in Austin, Jaha moved to Hawaii with Cat, one of her sisters and started a new life.
For Jaha, life became extra exciting. She joined her sister’s band Fifth Avenue as a songstress and performed live, around the island of Oahu. It was also in Hawaii that she was introduced to television acting and filmed her first television commercial that aired on all of the islands. This dab into television made Jaha realize she wanted to delve deeper into television and acting. She began to frequent Los Angeles. She also studied at prominent dance studios while in LA, made great contacts, and discovered that she enjoyed dance more than acting on television.
After a few years, Jaha’s path led her away from Hawaii, as she broadened her horizons traveling nationally and internationally. During this journey she studied radio, film, writing, and television broadcasting. She was also an on air radio personality, starred in live theatrical productions and wrote and produced her own songs. It became clear that it is the music studio recording life that spoke profoundly to her heart propelling her in that direction. With a new seriousness, Jaha began to learn professional recording techniques, stage protocol and the business of entertainment. As a result, she performed with world renowned musicians at numerous venues electrifying audiences with wonderful renditions of straight ahead jazz, blues and R&B songs.
During a University of Texas’ basketball half-time show Jaha, who has always had a love for youths, shared the stage and sang with two hundred Believe in Me children. Jaha had no idea that she was actually participating in a preview of her purpose, and future vocation. Her life took another turn and she relocated to New York defining her style as an artist, songwriter, producer and self-taught entrepreneur. She soon realized the problem with this plan. At the end of the day she was not fulfilled.
The fulfillment that Jaha sought since she began her journey showed up and showed out, every time she made a withdrawal from her wealth of God given talent, skills, abilities and experiences and deposited them into the hearts and minds of children. Jaha’s realization of this fact was the impetus that moved her to forsake her personal entertainment career aspirations, and make music for children.
With very little money, and the help of family and friends, Jaha recorded a complete children’s music CD titled Young Journey. The songs she wrote and recorded with and for children became tools for Jaha to launch school programs creating full music and theater productions with underserved children. She began providing the programs nationally, teaching the songs to children in their schools. Word of mouth caught on quickly and soon Jaha was being contracted by school administrators and asked to customize her programs to meet the social needs of their students. What she discovered was that while the groups and schools were different, the issues they were addressing with the youths were the same. She decided to focus on growing character. Jaha realized that the Arts were a great vehicle that allowed her to speak to the lives of children while having their undivided attention. The programs evolved and now include media education, cheerleading sports and multi disciplinary dance courses.
Now, more than thirteen years after moving to New York, Jaha has established The Young Journey Foundation, a 501c3, non-profit organization based in New York dedicated to building excellent character in youths through the performing arts. She has many programs in motion that help ready young people for college and the work force. She has also established Jaha’s Management Team, Inc. which is an umbrella organization for Jaha’s creative visions including her singing career. She has released the first single “Tell The World”, a pop inspirational song, plus family oriented projects and events.
Find out more at www.jaha.tv
Written by Shirley Francis-Salley