When I was a child growing up in Maryland during the 1950’s and 1960’s, I had dreams of becoming a mega stage and screen star. Back then, Mom worked for a former dancer who opened a dance studio. So from the ages of 5-7, I trained as a ballerina. Then, seeing that Modern Interpretive and Jazz dance was more snappy, I switched over and remained with those styles throughout my young adulthood. I then added on Musical Theatre training, as well as African, Polynesian, Tap, Social and Square Dancing, oh I left out Flamenco. Let’s just say by high school I was a well-seasoned performer. I was known as a “Quadruple Threat” in my Freshman year of high school. Why? Because I could sing and dance any genre of music from Billie Holiday to Motown to The Beatles to Broadway. I could act so well that as a ninth grader I took on the role of an eleventh grader’s mom, and won Best Actress award and a scholarship to a local Performing Arts camp (not one summer, but for three consecutive summers). And my last year of camp, I won an additional week of camp on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I also could choreograph massive group routines for all of our school’s mega fund-raisers and I never ever in my life got stage fright. I was known as the one who was always “performance ready”. But, due to the era I grew up in, Mom refused to let me perform outside of school or camp plays and auditions were out of the question. So, years later, as a grown up, I became a Volunteer Dancer for Maryland’s Life Support Program, where I’d travel throughout the state entertaining the elderly, the disabled, and other social organizations on holidays and weekends. Of course, that was just a hobby, as I had a full-time job.

Fast forward to relocation to St.Thomas. While visiting as a tourist, I had the wonderful occasion to meet and dance with the founder of the Mungo Niles Cultural Dancers, who were the leading Quadrille dance group on this rock. Mr. Niles himself was intrigued by my ability to dance to Quelbe music. But I told him that, “Back home, we call it Square Dancing and I‘ve done it all of my life from elementary school days.” He asked me to consider joining his troupe if I ever moved here. I moved the next summer, but unfortunately he passed away shortly after I got here. But St.Thomas was booming with nightlife all over this tiny rock. I earned the title “Dancing Queen” as DJs would try to wear me out changing the tempos, beats, rhythms and types of tunes on me. And I’d win every time. I was sought after by many carnival troupes, but I always preferred to organize and train students for the children’s parades.I actually “Marched up De Road” from 1990-2006. I also would spend time brushing up on my singing skills at almost every Karaoke bar on island. I went to the semifinals several times. And though I was never crowned the winner, my appearances earned me the opportunity to perform at all of the former major stage show venues and theatres on island.

My dreams had come true! I used to sit in the audience at Reichhold Center on UVI’s campus, and Pistarkle Theater in TuTu, and wonder how I’d feel performing on stage before a sold out, standing room only crowd. And I actually got to do both! I even got the chance to sing on TV for a local Telethon. I also got an opportunity to be a contestant in a pageant. I didn’t win the crown, but I got the chance to earn extra cash as a wedding singer several times on St. John with a group of well-known musicians. I became a soloist! I had opportunities as a guest star, even had a one-woman nightclub act.

So, why did I quit? Being famous is hard work! As I approached my 60’s, health issues came into play. Looking good after a hard day’s work is a drag sometimes. Teaching made singing difficult. And I quickly learned that local night spots use Open Mike Nights and Karaoke to draw in quality entertainment for free. I’d sing one song, then be given requests for five or six more. But Hubby and I still had to pay for our food and drinks. And it got to the point where ever place I went, bar or club owners begged me to fill in for the missing performer (who got paid in advance) so they couldn’t pay me.

So Jazzy JoJo went on Strike! “On Vacation Until Further Notice!” But boy, was it fun while it lasted!

Current Rock of Residence:

St. Thomas, USVI

Island Girl Since:

August 1984

Originally Hails From:

Baltimore, Maryland

Thirty-five years ago, this short and sassy senior citizen, having had enough of harsh, bitter cold winters, as well as the hustle and bustle of big city life in her hometown, decided at the ripe age of 32 years that she would kiss life in Baltimore goodbye and become an Island Girl. After a few visits to St.Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands, applying for work each time, this nearly emotionally burnt-out Caseworker was offered a job that would totally change her life forever.

So, on the bright sunny morning of August 23, 1984, she flew away from home and arrived on the island with nothing but four suitcases of summer clothes, another tote bag full of swimsuits, and enough money to live on until she would get paid from her brand new job. Changing professions from Caseworker to Pre-School Instructor proved to be a true blessing!

Working with the island’s children from 1984 – May, 2019 has put Mrs. Saunders in touch with hundreds of the island’s children who filled her days with true delight.

For her first few years on St.Thomas (also known as Rock City), Mrs. Saunders explored the mores and traditions of island life as a young adventurous bachelorette until July 11, 1992 when she surrendered her heart to St.Thomian Anthony H. Saunders. They are still completely inseparable to this very day. With this marriage comes a rather comical dilemma for JoAnne at times. Having taught and cared for the island’s children for the past three and a half decades, many times now Mrs. Saunders has gotten opportunities to meet back up with former students who knew her as “Ms. Matthews.” But, these students’ children only know her as Mrs. Saunders. And there have been several occasions when JoAnne has had to settle family disputes, because the children insist that their parents are mistaken when they call her by “the wrong name.”

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