If you’ve grooved along to Bobby Brown, Montell Jordan, the sisters of von Grey, Sugarland’s Kristian Bush and countless other acts at the annual 4th of July Celebration at Centennial Olympic Park, then you’ve heard – and probably seen – JFly.
He is literally and figuratively the man behind the music.
Jorel Flynn, known professionally as JFly, is the music director for the annual Independence Day production on the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s (GWCCA) downtown Atlanta campus.
He’s also the drummer for the 90-minute (give or take) live show that precedes the fireworks extravaganza and responsible for lining up the talent that appears on stage with his band, known simply as JFly and Friends, which backs up each artist on the bill.
Although the venue has changed for this year’s celebration – to the GWCCA’s International Plaza due to ongoing renovations of the 21-acre park – JFly is back for his fifth year at the helm, lining up an eclectic array of musical guests to entertain the crowd before the Southeast’s largest pyrotechnics display lights up the downtown Atlanta sky on Wednesday evening.
A native of Waycross in southeast Georgia, JFly grew up in a musical family as the youngest of eight siblings and emulated a couple of his older brothers who played drums. But unlike them, he was serious about pursuing a music career and moved to Atlanta shortly after graduating high school.
He immediately immersed himself in the Atlanta music scene, landing studio sessions with the likes of OutKast’s Andre 3000 and jazz musician Joey Sommerville, and sitting in with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
And his musical network began to grow.
His association with Centennial Olympic Park began when he and his band, then known as JFly and the Fly Trap, were tapped to perform at the popular Wednesday WindDown series at the park’s Southern Company Amphitheater. The group ultimately secured the coveted Wednesday WindDown season finale slot for several years in a row, which led to an invitation to perform at the park’s annual July 4 blowout.
“I got on the radar with them by successfully closing out Wednesday WindDown each year,” said JFly. “At first they just wanted us to play (without guest performers) for the 4th of July, but every year it grew and we were the catalyst for bringing in top-flight entertainment.”
Adeola Sokunbi, sales and service manager for the GWCCA, said JFly deserves credit for ratcheting up expectations for the entertainment portion of the 4th of July gathering, which is broadcast live by ABC affiliate WSB-TV. “He has transformed the energy of the live component of the event and brought it to another level,” she said.
A highly-skilled drummer, JFly stays on the road for much of the year, performing with various acts, including crooner Peabo Bryson, the aforementioned Brown and New Edition spin-off RBRM, and this year’s 4th of July celebration headliner After 7.
He’s a man of many musical connections, embodied by his position as president of the Atlanta chapter of the Grammys. Yes, THE Grammys – he is a voting member of the Recording Academy, the organization that doles out the U.S. music industry’s highest honors. “We definitely support all of the artists that come out of the Atlanta region,” he said. “It’s good to be a guy with connections.”
Connecting to community is also JFly’s hallmark. In 2011, he launched his Lithonia-based How Big Is Your Dream? non-profit foundation, which supports music education, instruction and mentoring for kids who aspire to careers in the music business. He is also the father of three daughters, ages 2, 3 and 10.
He sees the familial connections of the GWCCA’s 4th of July Celebration, which is a free event the organization hosts for the community at large, also aligning with his personal mission as a philanthropist, humanitarian, husband, father and community activist.
“It definitely fits my passions, providing services for people that need help,” he said. “At heart, I’m a humanitarian. I’m glad we’re doing this to help create some unity in the city of Atlanta and state of Georgia.”
Underscoring his knack for diversity and the challenge of providing the backbeat for various genres and styles, JFly has yet again concocted what he described as an “interesting gumbo” for the Fourth of July Celebration’s entertainment lineup.
This year’s musical guests run the gamut from the smooth R&B of After 7 to country-inflected rockers The Van Lears to old school funk/R&B artists Klymaxx and Charlie Singleton of Cameo to The Griots, an all-African-American string ensemble.
It’s a lineup that represents the web of JFly’s diverse and deep musical alliances.
“JFly is one of the most-connected professionals in Atlanta’s music industry but his approach to serving Georgia’s youth through How Big Is Your Dream? foundation is likely what really helps him pull the strings and execute in the manner he does for events like the Fouth of July Celebration,” said Phil W. Hudson, a longtime Atlanta entertainment business analyst. “Rather than call in favors to promote his own career, JFly is able to recruit internationally-respected artists and industry titans to work with him because they see his servant’s heart and know whatever they do for and with him comes back tenfold in the community in addition to their own careers.”