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Mon, 03.12.1888

Hall Johnson, Vocalist, and Composer born

Hall Johnson

*Hall Johnson was born on this date in 1888. He was a Black concert vocalist and composer.

From Athens, GA, his father was a minister in the African Methodist Church and a college president. His earliest interest in music came from his grandmother. She was a former slave who exposed him to spirituals. Johnson graduated from Allen University and studied at the University of Pennsylvania, the Julliard School, and the University of Southern California.

His music career began as a violinist with James Reese Europe’s Orchestra. There he played in the 1921 musical “Shuffle Along.” His choir had notable appearances in productions of Green Pastures, Cabin in the Sky, and Lost horizons. Johnson's choir performed with great success in concert and on the radio within the New York City area, and they made their first recording for RCA Victor in 1928. Then in 1930, they sang his settings of spirituals composed for the musical, The Green Pastures on Broadway.

This success was followed by the Broadway production of Johnson's Run Little Chillun in 1933. Throughout his life, Johnson received numerous awards for his compositions, including The Urban League's "Opportunity Contest" competitions, the Harmon Award (1931), an honorary doctorate from the Philadelphia Music Academy, the George Frederic Handel Award, and a posthumous induction to the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Hall Johnson died on April 30, 1970, during a fire at his New York apartment.  Marian Anderson recorded several of his solo vocal settings and commented, "Hall Johnson was a unique genius. Although he invented no new harmonies, designed no new forms, originated no new melodic styles, discovered no new rhythmic principles, he was yet able to fashion a new world of music in his image."

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