YouTube/Jorge Tindle
YouTube/Jorge Tindle

LL Cool J Discovered the Grandma He Loved and Respected Was Not Related to Him Biologically

Aby Rivas
May 19, 2019
10:25 A.M.

LL Cool J discovered a huge family secret when he decided to take part in an episode of PBS’s “Finding Your Roots.” It turns out, the grandparents who raised him and whom he loved and respected so much, were not his biological family.


In a 2016 episode of “Finding Your Roots,” Grammy-Award winner LL Cool J—real name James Todd Smith—discovered that his maternal grandparents didn’t share his same blood. The news was also a significant discovery for his mother, Ondrea Griffith.


LL Cool J's shocking discovery

As Henry Louis Gates Jr., the show’s host, traced LL’s ancestors back to the pre-emancipation era, a DNA test on his mother brought back a match with a woman whose last name didn’t appear on the family tree.

The woman was her cousin, which meant that one of Ondrea’s parents were not biologically related to her.


After more tests and an extense investigation, Gates discovered that Eugene Griffith and Ellen Hightower—the couple that raised LL Cool J and taught him right from wrong—were not actually his mother’s biological parents.

Records showed that Ondrea was born Andra Jolly in 1946, but her birth certificate was registered in 1947 as Ondrea Griffith. Her birth parents were identified as Ethel Mae Jolly and Nathaniel Christy Lewis, and the fact that her name was changed meant Eugene and Ellen legally adopted her.

Ondrea Grifftih's birth certificate. | Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

Ondrea Grifftih's birth certificate. | Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

The actor's view on his family remained the same

The discovery, which Gates revealed to LL without cameras around first, didn’t change the rapper’s view on his family. He said of Ellen Hightower, to whom he dedicated his song “Big Mama” in 2002:


“I mean it’s sad, but at the same time, it’s… she was my grandmother. Biologically she wasn’t, but spiritually she absolutely will always be."

LL Cool J's grandparents. |  Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

LL Cool J's grandparents. | Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

“I can understand why they didn’t tell her,” the "NCIS" actor said of his grandparents keeping the information from his mother. “They didn’t want her to feel like she didn’t belong.”

And added:

"This doesn't change how I feel about the people that raised me. I respect you, Eugene Griffith. I respect Ellen Hightower Griffith. They did so well for us. I have more love and respect for them than I ever did."

LL and his mother Ondrea watching pics of his newfound relatives. | Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

LL and his mother Ondrea watching pics of his newfound relatives. | Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle


His mother also appeared on the show

LL's mother, who also appeared in the episode and got to see some pictures of her biological father, said that she understands that her parents "had their reasons" for not telling her about the adoption. she stated:

“Finding out when I’m my age now I can understand it, I can put everything in perspective.”

In the end, LL and Ondrea got the chance to meet with the side of their family that didn’t even know existed until then.

Ll Cool J, his mother Ondrea, and her half-sister Claudia. | ​ Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

Ll Cool J, his mother Ondrea, and her half-sister Claudia. | ​ Source: YouTube/Jorge Tindle

Ondrea got to meet her half-sister, and they also discovered that LL's biological great-uncle was a hall of fame boxer John Henry Lewis.

On top of that, LL had the pleasure of learning that his maternal side of the family were free black people in the 19th century, which was a massive accomplishment for African Americans at the time.

Please fill in your e-mail so we can share with you our top stories!
By subscribing, you agree to our Privacy Policy
Related posts

Boy Finds Old Tube in Late Granny's Attic, History Teacher Opens It and Gasps – Story of the Day

October 18, 2023

Man Finds Out He Was Raising a Stranger’s Daughter for 15 Years — She Proposes Adoption Soon After

July 24, 2023

‘She’s Not My Sister,’ Boy Says of Newborn Sibling, Parents Take DNA Test Confirming It – Story of the Day

September 20, 2023

Woman Finds Out at 70 That She’s Actually White Not Black: ‘In a Blink of an Eye, You’re a Different Race’

October 27, 2023

People Reveal the Craziest Wills They Ever Saw

October 18, 2023

Mom Notices Little Son Is Losing Weight, Learns New Teacher Takes His Lunch Every Day – Story of the Day

July 24, 2023

Daughter Stolen at Birth Reunites with Dad 34 Years Later, Learns He’s in Huge Trouble – Story of the Day

September 29, 2023

43 Notable Parent Fails That Were Less Than Perfect

September 27, 2023

Robert Pine’s Rare Appearance in Blue Suit with Wife of 54 Years by His Side: 'Enjoy Your Life & Find the Joy in It'

July 12, 2023

Man Attends His Dad's Brother's Funeral - Accidentally Finds Out Uncle Was His Real Father

September 17, 2023

‘Total Garbage,’ Music Teacher Mocks Immigrant Student’s Song, Hears It on Radio Later – Story of the Day

October 26, 2023

I Was Changing My Niece's Diaper When I Noticed Something That Made Me Do a DNA Test – Story of the Day

October 20, 2023

People Share Over 40 Worst Bridezillas Stories

October 24, 2023

Cafe Manager Insults Teen Employee, Unaware Her Dad Is Standing In Line – Story of the Day

October 10, 2023