JoJo Baby, Chicago drag queen, club kid and doll maker who ‘broke the mold’ dies at 51

JoJo Baby was a traveling art installation.

Perched atop a Gay Pride Parade float in 2013, the iconic drag queen wore a parachute canopy like dress that floated a little too well in the wind. Friends were worried that the entire get-up, including the resident, could blow away.

JoJo Baby wore a parachute as a dress at a Gay Pride Parade celebration in Chicago.

JoJo Baby wore a parachute as a dress at a Gay Pride Parade celebration in Chicago.

Screenshot from JoJo Baby’s Facebook page

For decades, JoJo Baby worked Chicago’s nightclub scene as a host who greeted people at the front door and partied on dance floors dressed in elaborate homemade costumes from Marie Antoinette to a mermaid to a Star Wars Wookiee—creating an atmosphere of fun and acceptance from the moment she was a guest arrived.

Armed with a sewing needle and the wealth of daily thrift store hunts, JoJo Baby created their costumes and were limited only by their imaginations – which seemed to have no limits.

JoJo Baby was gender fluid and was comfortable with multiple pronouns. Their fiancé, Jason Ecay, thought they/them/their would be appropriate for this obituary.

In addition to their work in nightclubs, JoJo Baby was a puppeteer whose work has been featured in museums, and a hairdresser who created some of former Bulls star Dennis Rodman’s beamed-around-the-earth coifs.

Dennis Rodman

JoJo Baby, who grew up in Logan Square, was one of the city’s first “club kids” – a scene of young people with exaggerated personalities that was one of the nightclubs of the 90s.

JoJo Baby died on March 14 of cancer at the age of 51.

A mouth with red lips and teeth wraps the door of JoJo Baby’s apartment near Western and Chicago. It was a Christmas present from several of their artist friends and the site of a vigil last week where people from all walks of life left flowers and other mementos.

As teenagers, they hung out outside the entrance to the now-closed Shelter nightclub, which was down a long alley off Fulton Street just west of the Loop.

Byrd Bardot worked the door to the club, often dressed in club attire that ranged from geisha to battered footballer. He picked people from the line who would add to the atmosphere and let them in.

A memorial to Jojo Baby, an artist, doll maker, hairdresser and drag queen, was created outside Jojo Baby's former apartment at 2546 W. Chicago Ave.  in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, Friday 17  March 2023.

A memorial to Jojo Baby, an artist, doll maker, hairdresser and drag queen, was created outside Jojo Baby’s former apartment.

“The club opened at 10 p.m., but no one arrived until midnight, so I’d be out there with a bouncer and no one else, except JoJo,” Bardot recalled.

“JoJo wasn’t old enough to come in and just wanted to come and sit outside and keep me company and watch people come in and out. It was almost like a life studies class, just studying people and the different looks they had. The whole clubbing thing just started.”

Soon after, they started dressing like club kids, doing impersonations of famous drag queens and making friends in the city’s art scene.

Corey Ecay and JoJo Baby

“People would come out for air and a smoke and JoJo would just sit there and people thought JoJo worked at the club and they’d just start talking,” Bardot said.

Shelter soon hired JoJo to dance on stage and liven up the party.

“The club kids who were always trying to one-up each other in different looks,” Bardot said.

Friends said JoJo would remember with a smile celebrating their 21st birthday and the astonishment on the faces of colleagues who said “Wait, how old are you? Just turning 21? But you have worked here for many years!”

Their mother was a hairdresser and medical technician. She named her eldest son JoJo, as in ‘JoJo, baby, it’s time to go to bed.’

Their father was a cook.

JoJo Baby was briefly on his way to becoming a Catholic priest before dropping out of the now-closed Quigley Prep Seminary after realizing it wasn’t a good fit. They left home at the age of 14 after a clash with their father and moved into an apartment with several roommates from club kids.

“JoJo had our mother’s grace,” Jason Arguellas said. They “always treated people with such kindness.”

JoJo Baby – who legally changed her name to JoJo Baby – befriended and was mentored by renowned doll maker Greer Lankton.

Some of the dolls JoJo Baby made and collected.

Some of the dolls JoJo Baby made and collected.

JoJo Baby’s Facebook page

Ecay hopes their extensive collection of dolls will end up in a museum exhibition.

“He got so childishly excited to see a new doll,” Ecay said.

During the pandemic, the couple traveled to Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia, where JoJo Baby adopted several Cabbage Patch Kids dolls.

“It was a very sweet experience,” Ecay said.

JoJo Baby

JoJo Baby

Screenshot from JoJo Baby’s Facebook page

Widely recognized in and out of costume and known to some as the Mayor of Wicker Park, JoJo Baby had a number of derogatory words that had been hurled at them throughout this life tattooed on their bodies.

Jason Arguella, JoJo’s brother, said JoJo wore them “like armor.”

Joe Shanahan, founder of Smart Bar and Metro, who has known JoJo Baby for more than 30 years, said they “brought joy” everywhere and were a “unique performance artist of the highest caliber”.

Baby JoJo was the subject of a documentary produced by filmmaker Clive Barker, who, along with puppeteer Jim Henson and singer Boy George, was one of their heroes.

They also had a brief appearance in the movie “Party Monster” in which Macaulay Culkin and delved into the culture of club kids.

In addition to their brother and fiancé, JoJo Baby is survived by another brother, Justin Arguellas.

Services are being planned.

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