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John R. Johnson
*On this date in 1873, John R. Johnson was born. He was a Black composer and arranger.
John Rosamond Johnson was from Jacksonville, Florida. He was taught to play piano by his mother at the age of four, also studying music at the New England Conservatory. In 1899, he and his brother James Weldon Johnson traveled to New York where they met Robert “Bob” Cole. The musical collaboration between Rosamond and Cole, often assisted by James Weldon produced more than 150 songs over the next ten years. Many were incorporated into Broadway shows such as Sleeping Beauty and the Beast (1901), and Humpty Dumpty (1904).
Among their most popular songs were Under the Bamboo Tree, The Congo Love Song, and Nobody’s Lookin’ but the Owl and the Moon. Their songs were made popular by Marie Cahill, Anna Held, George Primrose, and Lillian Russell. Johnson and Cole produced several musical comedies including The Shoo-Fly Regiment 1906 and The Red Moon 1908, which were performed by all-black cast.
Johnson also collaborated on the musical Hello Paris in 1911. A year later after Cole’s death, he performed in the London revue Come Over Here and became the musical director of the Hammerstein Opera House. Back in the states he became musical director of Blackbirds of 1936 and appeared in Porgy and Bess (1935), Mamba’s Daughter (1939) and Cabin in the Sky (1940). He is probably best know for writing the music to Lift Every Voice and Sing (a.k.a. the Negro National Anthem).
He and his brother also published two books of African American spirituals. John Rosamond Johnson died November 11, 1954 in New York City.
African Americans/Voices of Triumph
by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Copyright 1993, TimeLife Inc.