Jazzaline Ware Loved God and a Good Phone Chat
She’d spend hours talking, cooking, and listening to gospel music
This story is part of Know Their Names, a collection of articles illuminating and celebrating the lives of Black Trans women.
When Adrianne Brown remembers her friend Jazzaline Ware, she can’t help but recall their phone calls. On Sundays, they had a particular routine. Jazzy, as she was affectionately known, would play gospel music while both of them talked, cleaned, and cooked in their respective homes. “Jazzy might just get the Holy Ghost and start speaking in tongues,’’ Adrianne says. “It was all genuine. She was very spiritual. A lot of Transgender women aren’t into church because of how the church treated them, but Jazzaline loved God. They said she was born with a veil over her eyes. When it comes to church, there was no scams, no schemes—only God.”
The phone was also used to indicate what mood Jazzaline was in. “We would spend hours listening to ‘I Gotta Find Peace of Mind’ by Lauryn Hill and ‘If’ by Destiny’s Child. When I called her and heard one of those songs on the answering machine, I knew she was in her feelings and to leave her alone,” Adrianne says. “She would put that song on her voicemail. That would be the intro, and then a long, drawn-out message. She’d say she doesn’t want to talk, but she has caller ID.”
The last time Adrianne spoke to Jazzaline, who was found dead in her Memphis apartment in March, it was Adrianne who couldn’t talk. Adrianne was attending to birthday party responsibilities for her son, who was turning two years old.
“Chance, my son, was born with a heart defect. Jazzy was one of the first people to raise money for my baby,” she says.
That Saturday, 34-year-old Jazzaline kept calling Adrianne, who was too busy to talk. “I knew something was wrong when I realized Jazzy had been calling all day long,” she says.
They spoke for a few minutes, and Adrianne promised to call her back.
But Adrianne couldn’t know that would be the last time they’d talk. “Usually she’d say, ‘Old fat bitch, call me back when your boyfriend gone,’ or something rude and funny,” she recalls. “But what haunts me the most is my friend called me and said, ‘Friend, call me back. I love you.’ I am proud of that part of it. Some people don’t get the opportunity to say ‘I love you.’”
Adrianne thought the calls were related to Jazzy’s beloved white poodle, but they weren’t. It turns out Jazzaline wasn’t feeling good; she couldn’t shake the feeling of being thirsty. She was worried and scared.
For weeks, Adrianne tried to get back in touch with her friend, but Jazzaline never returned her calls. Jazzaline was 34 when she died.
Another old friend, Kursandra Perkins, remembers the moment they became friends in high school. They met on a chat line long before Jazzaline transitioned. “I was 14,’’ Kursandra recalls. Jazzaline, who was about the same age, said she wanted to fight Kursandra. They decided to meet up at the local skating rink, but when they were face to face, Kursandra got a big surprise. Jazzaline had no interest in fighting. Instead, she told Kursandra that she just wanted to meet her and be friends. “That’s how we met,’’ Kursandra said.
Boys teased Jazzaline for being feminine. Kursandra protected her. When Jazzaline visited Kursandra in her neighborhood, she also looked out for Jazzaline. “[She] got teased by the guys. You know, dudes trying to fight [her]. [Jazzaline] wasn’t from the neighborhood I was from. The boys would say, ‘Get that punk away from me,’ and they would beat [her] up. You know how kids are, but that didn’t stop [Jazzaline] from coming to see me.”
“Jazzy was the type of person, no matter what people said or how they looked at her, she was still going to do what Jazz wanted to do.”
When Jazzaline came out as transgender, she never grew angry if someone called her by her birth name or by male pronouns, friends say. Although she preferred the pronoun “she,’’ Jazzaline knew who she was — a stylish brown beauty, stocky, with perfect teeth and a taste for the finer things in life, which is why Adrianne gave her the name Jazzaline.
“Jazzy was the type of person, no matter what people said or how they looked at her, she was still going to do what Jazz wanted to do,’’ Kursandra says. “She didn’t care about what people had to say or think. She loved fashion. She went to fashion school after high school, and she loved her Gucci bags, her Louis Vuitton bags. You couldn’t tell her nothing. She kept a nice house. She loved to have fun and check people.”
And she was filled with funny sayings. For example, when she didn’t like food someone served her, she’d say, “This is going to Mr. Can,” as in trash can.
Jazzaline didn’t finish fashion school in Chicago and struggled to make a real living, but friends like Adrianne say Jazzaline “was very street savvy and knew how to hustle up a coin.” She had recently started a new career as an eyelash technician. Kursandra says Jazzaline had gotten all her equipment but never had the chance to start up her home business. A black massage table and professional light fixture were set up in Jazzy’s apartment before she died.
The love of her life was her poodle, Bvlgari, whom she got in Chicago while in fashion school in 2006. “I wanted a dog so bad. It was the latest trend in fashion school. He has had his days of being Bossy blue, pink and every color you could think,’’ Jazzaline wrote in a Facebook post. The dog comforted her through the good and bad times. In 2014, Jazzaline was a victim of violence, Adrianne says. An acquaintance she met online robbed her of her minivan, iPhone, and Louis Vuitton bag while also shooting her in the leg. The man, who had been using a fake name and identity, was never arrested, but Jazzaline healed by leaning on Bvlgari.
“My lil baby is a soldier just like me, from various break ends, to every man that has walked in and out of my life, and moved state to state, coast to coast with me. At times, I look and say ‘damn lil baby must love me for real.’ Honestly this dog has taught me how to love,’’ Jazzaline wrote on Facebook. “Now he’s laying on my shot leg, rods, screws and all. He is so protective to be a poodle… Anybody who knows him knows he loves clothes and all just like me and he is a lil mean, but a sweet heart just like me.”
That day in March when Kursandra heard that her friend was dead, she waited outside the house for hours with other friends and family members as police searched the home. They prayed that at least Jazzaline’s beloved poodle was okay, but sadly, Bvlgari died too. The funeral program says Jazzaline died on March 25, but friends believe Jazzy had been dead in her home for weeks. Her death has been a mystery, though police were initially looking at it as a homicide. Jazzaline’s body was so decomposed when it was discovered that it was unclear how she died, according to an official at the Transgender Law Center. Repeated calls to the Memphis police department were not returned.
“Black trans women deserve to be supported and cared for while we’re alive.”
Friends believe foul play was involved, but Kayla Gore of the Transgender Law Center says the police believe Jazzaline may have died from natural causes.
“Black Trans women deserve to be supported and cared for while we’re alive. We face interpersonal and systemic violence that requires a community response,’’ Gore says. “All too often, people only pay attention when we’ve died.”
Friends still are not sure what really happened to Jazzaline. Kursandra says she’s heard almost nothing about her friend in the news. “I worry people are not concerned about what happened because of her lifestyle,” Kursandra says.