J. Rosamond Johnson

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J. Rosamond Johnson, right, with Bob Cole
J. Rosamond Johnson, photo by Carl Van Vechten (1933)

John Rosamond Johnson (August 11, 1873 – November 11, 1954),[1] most often referred to as J. Rosamond Johnson, was an Bahamian-American composer and singer during the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson is most notable as the composer of the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing" which has come to be known in the United States as the "Black National Anthem". His brother, the poet James Weldon Johnson, wrote the lyrics of the famous piece. It was first performed live by 500 Black American students from the segregated Stanton School (elementary/middle/junior high-level), Jacksonville, FL, in 1900.[2] The song was published by the Edward B. Marks Music Company, formerly the Joseph W. Stern & Co., Manhattan, NY.[3]

Biography[edit]

Johnson was trained at the New England Conservatory and then studied in London. His career began as an interesting public school teacher in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. Travelling to New York, he began his show business career along with his brother and Bob Cole. As a songwriting team, they wrote works such as The Evolution of Ragtime (1903). Among the earliest works by the group, this was a suite of six songs of "Negro" music. They produced two successful Broadway operettas with casts of black actors: Shoo-Fly Regiment of 1906 and The Red Moon of 1908.[4][5][6] They also created and produced several "white" musicals: Sleeping Beauty and the Beast in 1901, In Newport in 1904, and Humpty Dumpty in 1904. Johnson would also collaborate to create Hello Paris with J. Leubrie Hill in 1911.

Johnson was active in various musical roles during his career. He toured Vaudeville and, after Cole's 1911 death, began a successful tour with Charles Hart and Tom Brown. In London, he wrote music for a theater review from 1912 to 1913 serving a long residency. After returning to the United States, New York's Music School Settlement for Colored — founded by the New York Symphony Orchestra's David Mannes — appointed him as director where he served from 1914 to 1919. With his own ensembles— The Harlem Rounders and The Inimitable Five— he toured as well, and performed in Negro spiritual concerts with Emmanuel Taylor Gordon. The London production of Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1936 engaged Johnson as musical director. During the 1930s, Johnson also sang the role of Frazier in the original production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, taking roles in other dramas as well. He reprised his role as Frazier on the 1951 studio recording of Porgy and Bess.

As an editor, he collected four important works. The first two of these song collections he compiled along with his brother James: The Book of American Negro Spirituals (1925) and The Second Book of Negro Spirituals (1926). In addition, Johnson edited Shoutsongs (1936) and the folksong anthology Rolling Along in Song (1937).

Musical works[edit]

  • Shoo-Fly Regiment (1906), Broadway operetta
  • The Red Moon (1908), Broadway operetta
  • Sleeping Beauty and the Beast (1901), musical
  • In Newport (1904), musical
  • Humpty Dumpty (1904), musical
  • Mr. Lode of Koal (1909), musical
  • Come Over Here (1912), musical
  • "The Maiden with the Dreamy Eyes", song
  • "Didn't He Ramble", song
  • "Li'l Gal", song
  • "Since You Went Away", song
  • "Lift Every Voice and Sing", song
  • "The Siberian Dip" (1911), ragtime instrumental

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Black Past
  2. ^ Audio recording, Atlanta Music Festival.
  3. ^ Edward B. Marks Music Company.
  4. ^ Johnson, James Weldon (1991) [Knopf, 1930], Black Manhattan, Da Capo Press, p. 109 .
  5. ^ Krasner, David (1998), Resistance, Parody and Double Consciousness in African American Theatre, 1895–19, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 141–42 .
  6. ^ Abbott, Lynn; Serof, Doug (2007), Ragged but Right, University Press of Mississippi, p. 75 .

References[edit]

  • Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. W. W. Norton & Company; 3rd edition. ISBN 0-393-97141-4
  • Yenser, Thomas (editor), Who's Who in Colored America: A Biographical Dictionary of Notable Living Persons of African Descent in America, Who's Who in Colored America, Brooklyn, New York, 1930-1931-1932 (Third Edition)
  • Podcast on James W. Johnson <iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/27594631?byline=0&portrait=0" width="400" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe>

External links[edit]