Image: The Everett Collection
Ja'Net Dubois, who many know from her role as the neighborhood gossip Willona Woods in the All in the Family spin-off Good Times, passed away on February 18, 2020.
She worked with a young Janet Jackson. Jackson, as Penny Gordon Woods, joined Good Times as an abandoned girl adopted by Willona. Ja'Net already had belted the recognizable Jeffersons theme, so perhaps she gave some singing pointers to the young Janet.
Others might know her from that easily recognizable theme song from another spin-off, The Jeffersons. The song, "Movin' on Up," is possibly one of the most iconic TV theme songs. Four decades later, "Movin' On Up" remains one of the few TV themes that just about every American can sing. It has stayed remarkably relevant.
As recently as 2016, there was a visual joke based on the song in a Super Bowl commercial for Apartments.com. Jeff Goldblum plays "Movin' On Up" on a piano as he is hoisted by a crane up the side of a luxury apartment building.
Dubois was working on Good Times at CBS Television City when she bumped into series producer Norman Lear. As she later recalled to Jet Magazine, she told her boss she was pleased with her success but was aching to branch out, to show off her other skills.
Lear suggested she work on the theme song to his upcoming series The Jeffersons. Dubois talked with her mother about the family's dream of moving on up in the world. "I moved my whole family," Dubois recalled. "I bought [my mom] a house, bought her a mink coat. I did everything, retired her. I did everything I ever promised her." The song would later become the closing track to her debut solo album, 1980's Queen of the Highway.
The 1998 Marlon Wayans and David Spade comedy Senseless is probably largely forgotten today. But the closing credits, and its soundtrack, did offer up a Nineties remake of "Movin' On Up" — "Gotta Be...Movin' on Up" by Prince Be of spiritual hip-pop group P.M. Dawn. And here's where it gets a little small-world-ish. Ja'Net Dubois played Grandma Ellington on the sitcom The Wayans Brothers around the time the film was made.
The actress and singer was 74 years old.