Jerry “Wonda” Duplessis, one of the most successful and musically-adept producers to emerge from the hip hop era since the 1990s, had a warm spot in his heart for the Caribbean, having been born in Haiti and raised in poverty near Newark.
He even liked the idea that the vehicle Forman intended to use to help bring aide to Puerto Rico was the Jersey City Boys and Girls Club.
Born in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, Wonda was heavily influenced by the music of Bob Marley and Quincy Jones. He picked up a bass guitar at the age of 14 and immediately knew he had found his calling. He also taught himself to play the guitar, congas, and drums.
Wonda has a fondness for Jersey City because he started out his musical career playing in a merenge band here back in 1991.
Well known for an extensive career that includes producing songwriter, performing and composing, Wonda’s work with The Fugees resulted in a 1996 platinum record, “The Score,” widely believed to be one of the best hip hop records of all time. He went on to co-produce “Supernatural,” by musical icon Carlos Santana, was nominated for eight Grammy Awards, and was known for the pop hit “Maria Maria” which ruled the top of the charts for over 10 weeks.
Wonda has worked with with some of the biggest names in music, including Michael Jackson, Black Eyed Peas, Bono, Quincy Jones, Alicia Keys, Mick Jagger, Whitney Houston, Carlos Santana, Mary J. Blige, Beyoncé, Lauryn Hill, Tom Jones, and Shakira.
He gives back
But those who know Wonda also know that outside of the studio, he is involved in philanthropy and charity work.
So it was easy for him to arrange some talented performers to perform at a fundraising toy drive at the Jersey City club Transmission just prior to Christmas.
The toys gathered at the event and donated by groups such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey were to be delivered for Three Kings Day to the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County to be given to the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico for the children effected by Hurricane Maria.
Forman said More4Amor.org chose the Boys and Girls Club because there are 13 sites in Puerto Rico that can distribute the toys and later serve as a conduit for aid as Wonda and More4Amore expand their program.
Gary Greenberg, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hudson County, said he had come to an agreement with UPS to transport the toys to Puerto Rico.
Also involved in the program are Port Authority Police Marine Corps Association Detective Joshua Maarleveld and Police Officer Edgar Villanueva.
More 4 Amor held a relief effort and toy drive to benefit the people of Puerto Rico on Dec. 19 that included musical performances by Wonda, as well as several of the musicians who worked with Santana on “Supernatural.” Wonda and these musicians performed “Maria Maria” to a packed house.
The thought of a massive relief effort occurred to Forman back when the hurricane it in October. As he heard news of the devastation, Forman realized they needed to do something to provide relief.
The effort will expand
The toy drive and concert were the start of a much more concerted effort that will extend into 2018 with larger projects, including small and large concerts to raise money, he said.
Since the Boys and Girls Club has 13 locations in PR, the group decided that it could serve as a good distribution point for helping to provide aid, and as a catalyst for helping kids there as well as to rebuild the disaster-struck island.
“These sites can be used for a number of purposes, including as community centers at the rest of the infrastructure is rebuilt,” Forman said. “A majority of the island still doesn’t have gas or electric.”
The initial effort will bring gifts, as well as books, school supplies, and other things kids need.
Wonda said he embraced the effort partly because he had grown up poor in Haiti and wanted to give back somehow.
He said he liked Jersey City and felt that the launch of the effort here was appropriate. Jersey City has a large Puerto Rican population, many of whom have family on the island.
Along with Kevin Zamora of Make4More and others, Wonda brought together some serious musicians to Transmissions as a kick off.
The Transmission event brought support from community people from various other arts organizations, such as Michelle Sorvino from Golden Door International Film Festival.
Wonda said he understood the need, and wanted to work with the Boys and Girls Club in Jersey City to increase musical education, something that has suffered over the last few years as a result of budget cuts
“I came from Haiti,” he said. “Music saved my life. I want to help create musicianship here.”
He said he met with Mayor Steven Fulop and others to make them aware of what he intends to do.
He said he’s hoping to raise $100,000 in the upcoming year to help Puerto Rico including large concerts in Newark’s PAC, as well as sites elsewhere such as Los Angeles.
“This is only the start,” he said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.