Marv Johnson

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Marv Johnson
Marv Johnson.jpg
Background information
Birth name Marvin Earl Johnson
Born (1938-10-15)October 15, 1938
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died May 16, 1993(1993-05-16) (aged 54)
Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
Occupation(s) Singer, songwriter, pianist
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1956–1993
Labels United Artists
Motown Records
Motorcity Records

Marv Earl Johnson (October 15, 1938 – May 16, 1993)[1][2] was an American R&B and soul singer, most notable for performing on the first record to be issued from what became Motown.


He was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1938.[1] He began his career singing with a doo-wop group called the Serenaders in the mid 1950s. With budding talents not only as a singer but as a songwriter and pianist, he was discovered by Berry Gordy while Johnson performed at a carnival.[3] Gordy had already decided to form his first record label, Tamla, and Johnson's recording of their song "Come to Me" became the label's first single in May 1959.[4] The fledgling label did not have national distribution and so the song was released by United Artists, and reached #30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.[4] Johnson would go on to co-write another four songs with Gordy. After he issued the first release for the Tamla (Motown) label, Johnson was signed by United Artists. He released three albums and several singles for UA, but continued to record in Motown’s homegrown studios at Hitsville USA.

Between 1959 and 1961, Johnson would issue nine Billboard Hot 100 singles including two Top 10s. The first of them was "You Got What It Takes", which reached #10 in the US and #7 in the UK Singles Chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.[5] In the United Kingdom, "You Got What It Takes" reached #7 in 1960, and both "I Love The Way You Love" and "Ain't Gonna Be That Way" made the UK chart. "I Love The Way You Love" reached #9. He scored his final US Top 40 single in 1960 with "(You've Got To) Move Two Mountains". It also sold a million copies, giving Johnson his second gold disc.[3]

Johnson enjoyed many hits in Australia where he racked up a total of eight Top 40 hits, including three chart-toppers. "Come To Me" was released in Australia on EMI's London Records (as were most of his Australian releases) and reached #16 on the 2UE Top 40 in Sydney. "You Got What It Takes" was his biggest Australian hit, topping the national charts for over 16 weeks in 1960. After "I Love The Way You Love" became a national Top 10 hit in mid-1960, Johnson flew to Australia to meet entrepreneur and Big Show creator Lee Gordon, and performed in his September Big Show, "Twist It Up". At the top of the bill were Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, and James Darren with Jackie Wilson, Johnson, and Barry Mann. They were supported by Johnny O'Keefe, The Delltones and Col Joye.

Johnson's songs "Happy Days" and "Merry-Go-Round" (both written by Berry Gordy) proved to be his last chart successes under the United Artists label. Although they did not reach the US Top 40, they performed well on the R&B charts, peaking at #7 and #26, respectively, in 1961. Further significant chart action proved elusive, and his contract with United Artists was eventually dropped. He then re-signed with Motown in 1964, writing and producing, as well as recording. "Why Do You Want To Let Me Go" (with its B-side "I'm Not A Plaything") was his first release under Motown since rejoining the company. He released "I Miss You Baby (How I Miss You)", which became a minor Billboard R&B chart entry in 1966. He would never any manage further US hits, and by 1968, he had issued his final American single.

In the UK, however, his song "I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose" (which he co-wrote) became a hit after it reached the Top Ten (#10) in early 1969. Motown dug into their vaults for tracks to create a similarly-titled LP for the British market. Tamla Motown issued his album I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose in 1969, which contained many of Johnson's songs recorded since he had signed there in the mid-1960s, including "Why Do You Want To Let Me Go", "I'm Not A Plaything" and "I Miss You Baby (How I Miss You)". The latter was also reissued as a single on Tamla Motown, and was a hit in Britain, making #25 on the UK Charts in 1969. He also toured Britain with Martha Reeves & The Vandellas.

Johnson remained with Motown, working on sales and promotion, in the 1970s. He also wrote songs for Tyrone Davis and Johnnie Taylor.[4] He co-wrote The Dells’ R&B hit, "Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation", which peaked at #3 on the R&B Chart (and #34 on the Hot 100) in 1973. Johnson eventually separated from Motown.[6]

Johnson continued singing into the 1990s, releasing a solo album on the London based Motorcity Records label. He died of a stroke on 16 May 1993,[1] in Columbia, South Carolina, at the age of 54. He is interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit. His headstone reads "Motown Pioneer".

In 2011, a compilation album featuring all songs recorded by Johnson during his second stay at Motown was released. I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose - The Complete Motown Recordings 1964-1971 was an authorised reissue of his Motown recordings, released under the Kent Soul label (which is an Ace Records subsidiary that releases Northern Soul music). The first eleven tracks are from his 1969 album I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose, which includes the title track, "I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose", its original B-side "You Got The Love I Love" and "I Miss You Baby (How I Miss You)". It also contains several previously unissued songs, such as "Farewell Is A Lonely Sound" (originally recorded by Jimmy Ruffin), and mono mixes of his three Gordy singles.

Selected discography[edit]

Chart singles[edit]

Year Single
Chart Positions
US[7] US R&B[7] UK[2]
1959 "Come to Me"
(Berry Gordy, Jr. / Marv Johnson)
30 6
"I'm Coming Home"
(Berry Gordy, Jr.)
82 23
1960 "(You've Got to) Move Two Mountains"
(Berry Gordy, Jr.)
20 12
"Ain't Gonna Be That Way"
(Berry Gordy, Jr. / Marv Johnson)
74 50
"All The Love I've Got"
(Bradford / Berry Gordy, Jr. / Holland)
"I Love The Way You Love"
(Berry Gordy, Jr. / Mikaljohn)
9 2 35
"You Got What It Takes"
(Berry Gordy, Jr. / Gwen Gordy / Tyran Carlo)
10 2 7
1961 "Happy Days"
(Berry Gordy, Jr. / T. McKnight)
58 7
(Berry Gordy, Jr.)
61 26
1969 "I'll Pick a Rose for My Rose"
(J. Dean / Marv Johnson / W. Weatherspoon)
"I Miss You Baby"
(Clarence Paul)


  • Marvelous Marv Johnson (1960) - United Artists
  • More Marv Johnson (1961) - United Artists
  • I Believe (1966) - United Artists
  • I'll Pick a Rose for My Rose (1969) UK TMG 680 {Re-issued TMG1052}- Motown
  • The Very Best - Motor City Recordings (1995) - Carleton Home Entertainment
  • I'll Pick A Rose For My Rose - The Complete Motown Recordings 1964-1971 (2011) - Kent Soul (Ace Records)


  1. ^ a b c Doc Rock. "The Dead Rock Stars Club 1992 - 1993". Retrieved 2016-07-18. 
  2. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 287. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^ a b Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 125. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  4. ^ a b c Eder, Bruce. "Marv Johnson". Allmusic. Retrieved March 26, 2010. 
  5. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 115. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  6. ^ "Marv Johnson". Classic Motown. Retrieved 2016-07-18. 
  7. ^ a b Bruce Eder. "Marv Johnson | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-07-18. 

Further reading[edit]

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