JoJo Billingsley was a talented singer, songwriter and recording artist who was best known for her work with The Honkettes, the backing vocalists for the Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. She had a remarkable career that spanned from the 1970s to the 2010s, but also faced many challenges and tragedies along the way. In this article, we will explore her life story, her involvement with Lynyrd Skynyrd, and her cause of death.
Early Life and Career
JoJo Billingsley was born as Deborah Jo Billingsley on May 28, 1952 in Memphis, Tennessee. She came from a musical family and started singing at age three. She also took dance lessons and was a church soloist by the time she was 10. She received a scholarship to attend the University of Mississippi, but had a difficult time because she never had music theory. She also missed an opportunity to attend Juilliard School because her father did not allow her to go to New York City.
She decided to pursue singing as a profession after her father passed away in 1971. She first joined a band called Oil Can Harry, with whom she toured the US and Europe in 1973 and 1974. She then joined Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Honkettes” in December 1975, after being hired by the band’s leader, Ronnie Van Zant, without even hearing her sing.
The Honkettes and Lynyrd Skynyrd
The Honkettes were a trio of female singers who provided backing vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of the most popular Southern rock bands of all time. The other two members were Cassie Gaines and Leslie Hawkins. They sang on some of the band’s most famous songs, such as “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Free Bird”, “Gimme Three Steps” and “Saturday Night Special”. They also performed live with the band on numerous tours and shows around the world.
However, their time with Lynyrd Skynyrd was cut short by a tragic plane crash on October 20, 1977, that killed several members of the band and crew, including Van Zant, Gaines and guitarist Steve Gaines. Billingsley was the only band member not on the flight, because she was under a doctor’s care in Mississippi, dealing with health problems brought about by substance abuse. She later claimed that she had a vivid dream of the plane crashing the night before, and tried to warn the band not to board it, but they did not listen.
Aftermath of the Crash and Conversion
The plane crash had a profound impact on Billingsley’s life. She said that it led her to become a born-again Christian, and that she felt God had spared her for a reason. She also said that she had several encounters with Van Zant’s spirit after his death, and that he told her to spread his message of love and peace through music.
She did not perform with a re-formed Lynyrd Skynyrd after the crash, because she was not invited. However, she did sing “Sweet Home Alabama” at the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. She also performed with some of the former members at occasional charity or memorial events.
She also pursued a solo career as a gospel singer and songwriter. She released several albums, such as “One More Time” (1983), “Rebel Heart” (1999) and “I Will Obey” (2009). She also made many television and radio appearances, appeared in several movies and DVDs, and traveled extensively.
Cause of Death
Billingsley died on June 24, 2010 from cancer at the age of 58. She had been diagnosed with cancer in May 2010, and underwent surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. However, the cancer had spread to other parts of her body, and she succumbed to it after a month.
She was survived by her husband Tim White, her daughter Destiny White, her son Justin Billingsley (who is in the US Navy), and her mother Hazel Billingsley. She was buried at Bethesda Cemetery in Senatobia, Mississippi.
Billingsley was remembered as a talented and beautiful singer who had a strong faith in God. She was also praised for her courage and resilience in overcoming many hardships and tragedies in her life. She left behind a legacy of music that touched many people’s hearts.