|Birth name||Margaret Leslie Johnson|
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
|Genres||Jazz, rock, pop|
|Associated acts||Infidels, Alta Moda, Big Sugar, Tom Cochrane, Breeding Ground, Blue Monday|
Johnson began as a child performer, receiving formal training from the National Ballet School and the Banff School of Fine Arts. Johnson's brother Clark Johnson, an actor and director (Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire), and sister Taborah Johnson, an actor and singer, are also noted Canadian performers.
Raised in Toronto, Ontario, as the child of a white mother and a black father, Johnson started her career in the mid-1960s when, as a young grade schooler, she and her brother were tapped by legendary Toronto producer Ed Mirvish to appear in Porgy and Bess at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. In time Porgy and Bess was followed by South Pacific, Finian's Rainbow and other musicals. The budding child star was soon enrolled the National Ballet School as she desired to become a choreographer. By the age of 17, Johnson was fronting a disco band named A Chocolate Affair. The group lasted just over a year.
She was lead vocalist for two rock bands, Alta Moda in the 1980s and Infidels in the 1990s. Both of her bands had notable singles in Canada (Alta Moda's "Julian" and Infidels' "100 Watt Bulb" and "Celebrate"), but both bands broke up (for different reasons) after just one album each.
Also in 1980s, she performed as a backing vocalist with popular Toronto group Breeding Ground, most notably on their singles "Happy Now I Know" and "Ceremony of Love", both of which received consistent college radio airplay, and even had rotation on MuchMusic. She also performed with them live whenever her commitments with Alta Moda weren't in conflict. In 1989 she performed the song "The Best We Both Can Be" for the film Babar: The Movie, and also provided voice work for Babar and the Adventures of Badou in 2010.
Beginning in 1993, Johnson established an annual concert series, the Kumbaya Festival as a benefit for Canadian charities working around HIV and AIDS. She helped to raise over $1 million for people living with AIDS/HIV. From 1992 to 1995 Kumbaya was broadcast live by MuchMusic, and featured Canada's best talent from Rush to the Tragically Hip, from Barenaked Ladies to Sarah McLachlan.
Although she has performed as a jazz singer throughout her career, beginning with Aaron Davis and David Piltch in the band Blue Monday and then with a band of backing musicians who would later become prominent in their own right as Big Sugar, she did not release a jazz album until her self-titled solo debut in 2000. She followed up with Another Day (2003). Both albums were well received at home and went on to be successful in France, where she continues to tour. In 2006 she released her third solo album Messin' Around.
She made history at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival, becoming the first Canadian female vocalist in the festival's 17-year history to sell out a show on the mainstage. She has even regaled royalty during a private command performance aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia before the Prince and late Princess of Wales, as well as having performed for Nelson Mandela and Quincy Jones. She has been the subject of numerous feature stories in various media, such as Adrienne Clarkson Presents, June Callwood's National Treasures, and Bravo!'s Live at the Rehearsal Hall.
On November 11, 2008, Johnson released her fourth full-length album, a record of standards entitled Lucky, via Universal Music Canada and Universal Music France. In March 2009 Lucky took home the Juno Award for Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.
She is currently working on The Black History Project: Canada - an initiative she has started to update Canadian history to include its impact and involvement with regards to Black Canadian history and the Underground Railroad.
- Molly Johnson (Marquis, 2000)
- Another Day (Narada, 2003)
- If You Know Love (2007) a.ka. Messin' Around
- Lucky (2008)
- The Molly Johnson Songbook (2011)
- Because of Billie (2014)
- Sarah Hampson, "Switching jazz singer Molly Johnson on and off". The Globe and Mail, November 22, 2012.
- "Molly Johnson" at The Canadian Encyclopedia.
- Alta Moda at Jam!'s Pop Music Encyclopedia.
- Infidels at Jam!'s Pop Music Encyclopedia.
- "Molly Johnson flies solo". canoe.ca, November 30, 2004.
- "Johnson plays the infidel". Ottawa Citizen, August 15, 1991.
- "'Another Day' Dawns for Johnson". Billboard, July 20, 2002.
- "Order of Canada - Molly Johnson".