The Johnson Family Singers

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The Johnson Family Singers, a popular singing family during the decade of the 1940s, was probably the best-known family singing group during the "golden days of radio." This original family of singers consisted of the father Jesse ("Pa"), the mother Lydia ("Ma"), and four children—Kenneth (Red), Betty, and twins Bob and Jim, who struggled to survive during the Depression days of the late 1920s and 1930s. The turning-point to the family saga came in the Fall of 1937, when "Pa" Johnson returned from the Stamps-Baxter Music School in Dallas, Texas, where he was inspired by the emerging Gospel music of the day.

In their tiny second-floor apartment on South Elm Street in Greensboro, NC, "Pa" Johnson took a 180-degree turn in his career, emerging from a life of house painter and mill worker to a teacher of shaped-note music. His first students were the children—10-year-old Kenneth, 9-year-old Betty, and the 7-year-old twins, Bob and Jim. Before long, they emerged from their Rubbish-Kieffer music chart to singing at family reunions and churches.

The first big break in the Johnsons' career occurred on December 29, 1940, when 50,000-watt radio station WBT in Charlotte, NC, asked the family to sing on "Grady Cole's Sunday Morning Farm Club." Other program, many of which were beamed over the CBS Radio Network, thrust them into the living room of families across the nation.

In the late 1940s, the family recorded 52 songs for Columbia Records, under the direction of the venerable Art Satherly; later, a similar number of songs were recorded on the RCA-Victor label. Their contract with Quaker Oats ended their radio career in May, 1951.

While the family's career lasted only 13 years (1938–1951), their records, family gatherings, The Ed Sullivan Show appearances in 1958, and other occasional programs continued. Over the next 40 years, Betty Johnson experienced a distinguished solo career on her own. Yet a third generation of singing Johnsons has come along with Kenneth's son, Wes and Chris, known as Hardcore Lounge.


Further reading[edit]

  • Johnson, Kenneth M. (1997). The Johnson Family Singers: We Sang for Our Supper. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. p. 160. ISBN 1-57806-004-4.