When someone from country superstar Keith Urban’s team messaged JUNO The Artist last year about partnering in a new guitar lesson project, the Rock Island High alum couldn’t believe her luck.

“We went through months of meetings. They really scouted me out and I did interviews and auditions, and all kinds of things and ultimately I didn’t really ever expect to work with Keith,” JUNO said Thursday of teaching with him on the new URBAN Guitar lesson app (created in conjunction with the URBAN Guitar by Yamaha and available for both iOS and Android).

“He’s someone I’ve been listening to since I was a teenager, so it was such a just dream come true. We went to Nashville and it was such an incredible experience,” she said, noting they filmed lessons there last summer. “They saw me; I’ve posted videos on YouTube for the last 10 years. That’s the cool thing about putting videos of yourself out. You never know who’s going to see it.”

Country superstar Keith Urban with JUNO The Artist.

In a Yamaha interview from November 2021, JUNO said working with Urban “was a full circle moment because I realized he wouldn’t have anybody teaching with him that didn’t add value to the project.

“I felt like I could exhale and say, before I leave this earth, I’m getting to be a part of something that’s going to pour into the next generation … and when I’m not here any longer, it will still be here. It’s truly an honor,” JUNO said.

“The respect and love I have for Keith and for Yamaha is special. They took the time to get to know me, and to recognize that I was a good fit for the project. It made me bring my A game because I understood the value of what they were creating. I appreciate that I was able to contribute to the curriculum. It was all about what we were teaching and how we could accomplish that in the most creative and successful way possible.”

“It’s just been a blessing working with Keith Urban and on that project, it was just such a dream come true,” JUNO — a very active guitar teacher herself — said Thursday. “That really inspired me to say, wow, look at what we just did and go back and level up my own organization. Working with someone as great as Keith Urban, I learned so much on that project. He’s such a cool, fun guy to work with. I just could not stop laughing. On set, he had me cracking up the whole time.”

Today, she is writing her next album and continuing to teach guitar to students all around the world.

From Rock Island to the world

JUNO has a highly successful online presence and stints playing with artists such as Bruno Mars, Machine Gun Kelly, Fifth Harmony and Camila Cabello. A Chicago native raised by a single mother, JUNO lived with her aunt and uncle in Rock Island during high school at Rocky.

After Illinois State University, she started her first career as a social worker at a drug rehab facility for teenagers.  One young man made a huge impression on JUNO, changing the course of her life. With the threat of him being kicked out of the facility, JUNO engaged him through his passion, the guitar. His eyes lit up the first time she showed interest in his music and they immediately formed a bond. She, too, experienced a sense of magic for the first time. 

From that point forward, JUNO knew there was a healing power in music that she had never tapped into. Determined to master the guitar, she practiced up to 16 hours a day and learned that not only could she express herself through the guitar but also discovered that it set her free, according to her bio.

She got into the Berklee College of Music, and after four semesters and hundreds of YouTube videos she made, JUNO got the call to tour with Fifth Harmony.

JUNO, right, performing with Camila Cabello.

Days later, she found herself on stage for the first time, in New York City, in front of thousands of screaming fans. Since then, JUNO has gone on to work with many well-known artists, including Camila Cabello and Bruno Mars, Keith Urban, Erykah Badu, Machine Gun Kelly, Lady Antebellum, Common, India Arie, and Lizzo to name a few.

“I just kept following my heart, working really hard and using music to connect with people – so I still consider myself a social worker,” she said. “I still love to use the guitar to connect people, bring them together and also just to express myself. It’s been such an amazing journey.”

In 2020, she finished writing and producing her first album, “Help is not on the Way” out of her aunt and uncle’s house in Rock Island, where she lived during high school. The album is a message of hope, allowing listeners to experience her journey of struggle and determination.

JUNO founded JUNO’s Guitar Bootcamp in 2018, where she’s taught guitar to over 400 students from 12 countries. In addition to guitar lessons, JUNO added a “Building Black Leaders” scholarship, and since 2019 offers up to 20 Black students each year free guitar lessons, mentorship, and a complete holistic approach to bringing guitar into their life and communities.

JUNO started her guitar bootcamp in 2018, and has 400 students online from around the world.

“I’ll be doing that this summer and that’s where I accept 20 Black students for free into the program — guitar lessons, mentorship, studio gear, equipment,” JUNO said Thursday. “It’s just it’s an amazing program and I’m so grateful for all the donors that support us because it wouldn’t be possible without them.

“Just to give back again to the community and bridge the gap by not just saying this needs to be done, but me saying I’m going to do it,” she said. “Give back to the next generation and educate and making sure music lives on.”

“Everybody doesn’t want to be a rock star on stage. Some people just want to use music right in their own community,” JUNO said. “It’s not about the music business, the entertainment industry. Sometimes music just is a way that people can use for therapeutic reasons, to connect with others, to help engage their classroom. I have teachers who used to bring the guitar into the classroom.”

Music is one of the only reasons she’s still alive, she said.

“It’s about connecting with people, making people feel something,” JUNO said. “Whether you’re a songwriter or poet, we got to create because when we create from our soul, it’s not just for us. It’s for the world.

“That’s what I’ve been doing. I’m working on this album and building this international guitar school, but trying to stay connected to what’s going on right now.”

In Davenport for Juneteenth and video

JUNO performed last June as part of the Quad Cities Juneteenth Festival, at the Lincoln Center, Davenport.

JUNO played at the Juneteenth celebration June 19, 2021 at the Lincoln Center, Davenport (photo by Jonathan Turner).

“It was awesome. It was so amazing to look out into the audience and see so many familiar faces from high school,” she said Thursday. JUNO will do a full show in the QC in early April, details to be announced later. “I’ve kind of adapted to this new change. I don’t think I’m going anywhere for any time soon. So instead of waiting for it to be something else, I’ve been just trying to take lemons and make lemonade.”

Also last summer, she included the local Essence W. Dance group in her “Nobody Cares” video, and recalled babysitting Essence Wilmington when she was little.

“I went to high school with her mom and I babysat Essence, when she was a baby,” she said. “I decided to use that local group because again, I’m trying to bridge that gap in the community, and there’s so much amazing talent here in the Quad Cities. So, just trying to collaborate and share the platform.”

The Essence W. Dance group in JUNO’s “Nobody Cares” video, filmed at the Davenport Skatepark.

“Nobody Cares” is from her “Help Is Not on the Way,” and JUNO made up her face for the video to evoke an iconic David Bowie look. She’s a huge Bowie fan and said, “I want to look like David Bowie and Missy Elliott had a baby.”

“The song is really about getting up and empowering yourself, recognizing that nobody else is going to care more about your life than you. So you got to get out and make the changes you want,” she said of “Nobody Cares.” “I want to inspire these young creatives here to get up and create the vision that’s in your head. Build your own vision. Don’t wait for somebody else. Do it yourself.”

JUNO with her David Bowie look for the music video.

“I realized, there’s so much talent right here in the Quad Cities, I’m gonna utilize the space to the best of my ability,” JUNO said. She shot half the video at the Davenport Skatepark with Essence W. Dance last summer, and filmed half in Los Angeles, releasing it last month.

“To see those young women just giving their all, I was so proud, and I don’t think I could have made a better choice in the whole world than those dancers,” she said. “I was so, so happy that I got to again spread the love and be a part of the community. That’s what it’s about.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to express that than to collaborate with these young, rising dancers,” she said. (You can see the “Nobody Cares” video HERE.)

Her guitar bootcamp enrollment has exploded the past couple years, partly due to pandemic isolation.

JUNO grew up in Chicago and went to Rock Island High School.

“I think a lot of people have more time and there are so many people who would never have time to sit down and pick up the guitar,” JUNO said.

“People’s work schedules are changing drastically and it’s just been an amazing community of people from all over the world – young, old, male, female, all different races — just a beautiful community of people that genuinely want to learn music. So to run that school, to teach the next generation to keep music going on is awesome.”

Learn more about the bootcamp HERE and you can donate to the “Building Black Leaders” scholarships HERE.

Passion for country, connection

Loving country music for so long has inspired JUNO’s own songwriting.

I love those songs,” she said. “I pull from that same place of really wanting to share the stories of my life and I got that from country music, listening to Tim McGraw and Faith Hill and Taylor Swift or Martina McBride, and Kenny Chesney. I was deep into it, and just really am loving to hear other people share their stories and being inspired to share my own. You don’t see a lot of Black women playing guitar and especially the way that I play.”

JUNO is working on a new album, and will play in the Quad Cities in early April.

Last June, JUNO played for the CMT 2021 Awards in Nashville.

“I got to play with Lady Antebellum, and Carly Pearce who won artist of the year this year. I mean, what a historical moment, and it was so amazing working with them,” she said, noting Pearce will play the Mississippi Valley Fair Aug. 5, 2022. “It was such a full-circle moment. I got that country in my blood. I just love the rhythm of country music and to play on stage with Lady Antebellum, you know, it was so cool. I have listened to them forever.”

“It’s such an honor to be amongst so many great people,” JUNO said of working with celebrities, including on TV’s “Empire.” “I want to pay my dues; I want to give back. I want to share the spotlight, share my platform and use it to the highest of my abilities. So being around so many amazingly talented people really inspired me to level up and not just get somewhere. But keep trying to go higher and higher, ‘cause there’s levels to this thing. Being in that environment was just crazy.”

“When you get in those environments, there’s so much around you, and you have to know who you are,” she said.

“Working on this project with Keith Urban and Yamaha showed me a whole new level, and I realize how awesome it is to go around and do all the things I do, but when you capture things on film, have a website, you can further reach people,” she said.

JUNO having a great time with her guitar pal, Keith Urban.

JUNO is working on a new website for her education programs, so she can reach more people, and she’s writing and recording a new album.

“I consider myself an artist and an educator, so balancing those two worlds is always challenging, but I could not do one without the other,” she said. “I love teaching new kids, inspiring the next generation, teaching that person who thought they were too old to play. Music is for everybody, so I’m excited about sharing that and spreading that.”

“I’m here for the long run; I love this community,” JUNO said. For more information, visit her website.