Jussie Smollett was born in Santa Rosa, California, in June 1982 as the third of five kids born to Janet Harris and Joel Smollett. Smollett has three brothers and two sisters. His younger brother, Jake, 29, and sister, Jurnee, 32, are also actors.
Smollett, 36, first came out as gay in March 2015 during an interview on “Ellen.” Later, Smollett said in an interview with Out magazine, “If I had to label myself, I would label myself as a gay man… If I fall in love down the road with a woman, I’m going to love that woman.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Smollett Siblings All Starred in the Sitcom ‘On Our Own’ Together in the 1990s
In 1994, all five of the Smollett siblings starred in the ABC sitcom, “On Our Own.” The show lasted for one season, until April 1995. The show which starred, Ralph Louis Harris, saw the siblings dealing with the sudden death of their parents in St. Louis. Smollett’s sister said in an interview that production “was like heaven.” She added, “We all were in the same school trailer. We would eat hot links and bagels for breakfast every morning — very black and Jewish of us.”
In total, 20 episodes of the series were aired. Harris played the Smollett’s eldest sibling, who was charged with raising them while donning drag in front of the children’s social worker to pretend to be an elderly aunt. The show’s IMDb page referred to Harris as performing in “Madea-style drag.” The show was created by David W. Duclon.
2. The Smollett Children Were ‘Raised in the Orbit of the Black Panthers’
The New York Times published a feature on Smollett and his family in March 2016. The article described the Smollett children as being “raised in the orbit of the Black Panthers.” It adds that the family has recently “lent their voices” to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Smollett told the Times in 2016 that his mother is African-American and is originally from New Orleans. She met his father in the Bay Area, where Joel Smollett Sr. lived. Smollett said, “My mom was in the movement with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and one of her first mentors was Julian Bond. To this day, Angela Davis is one of her dearest friends. We’ve spent Mother’s Day with Angela.” During the same interview, Smollett referred to the families dietary habits as “Blewish.”
3. Smollett’s Father Died After a Battle With Cancer in 2014 on the Day ‘Empire’ Premiered
Smollett’s father died after a battle with cancer in the winter of 2014. Smollett made the sad announcement on Instagram. Smollett wrote under a photo of his father holding him as a baby, “Yesterday, January 7, 2015, my family lost our king but we gained a righteous angel. You showed the deepest strength and dignity until your very last breath. You are not just a fighter… You are the CHAMP.”
4. Jurnee Smollett Is Married to Canadian Singer/Songwriter Josiah Bell
Smollett’s sister, Jurnee, is married to Canadian singer/songwriter Josiah Bell. The couple was married in October 2010 in the Los Angeles botanical gardens, Jurnee told Essence in a feature. Speaking about her relationship in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Jurnee said, “We were best friends before we started even dating, so we had this really great foundation. I think one of the challenging things about any lasting relationship is that you have to be so vulnerable. I think as human beings we try to hide our flaws and try to present this perfect person, this person we wish we were to our spouse when that causes so many troubles.”
Speaking about his sister to the Times, Smollett said she was a “mix of Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor. She was boss from the beginning.” by the time she was one. Jurnee appeared in her husband’s music video for “Smoke and Mirrors.” Jurnee gave birth to the couple’s first child, Hunter Zion, in November 2016.
5.Smollett’s Brother, Jake, Is a Renowned Celebrity Chef
Smollett’s oldest sibling, JoJo, works at a non-profit. One of his younger brothers, Jocqui, works in IT, his sister Jazz works in production while another brother Jake is a chef. Jake Smollett has appeared multiple times on “The Rachel Ray Show,” according to his IMDb page. Jake was a prolific actor in the 1990s and mid-200s with numerous credits. He hasn’t acted since 2009.
On his official website, Jake wrote, “I grew up in a family of eight: Five siblings and our parents. We jokingly call ourselves a farm family because would make a home-cooked meal that we would all collectively prepare, and eat together on a table that my mom built by hand.” Smollett bragged about his cooking abilities in a March 2015 interview with Vanity Fair saying, “I’m a very inviting guy and I like to cook a lot. My mom is from New Orleans, so I feel like I’m a Southern boy at heart and there’s always cooking. You can always come to my house and I will cook for you… Darling, there’s nothing I cannot make. I make the best macaroni and cheese that you will ever have in your life and I make a mean gumbo. It’s mean!”
Smollett told the Times that it was Jazz who heard about the casting for “Empire” and sent him the notice.
Smollett said of his siblings in a 2016 ABC News interview, “We’re a very close family, a functioning family, instead of dysfunctional… No one’s ever loved me in spite of who I am. They’ve always loved me because of who I am.”