J. Rosamond Johnson

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Born: August 11, 1873; Jacksonville, FL   Died: November 11, 1954; New York, NY  
J. Rosamond Johnson is best remembered as the composer of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which has become widely regarded in the U.S. as the Black National Anthem. But Johnson was hardly a one-work composer: he wrote a number of popular songs, including "Congo Love Song," "Under the Bamboo Tree," and "My Castle on the Nile." Moreover, he wrote operettas and musicals that achieved considerable popularity in the first decades of the twentieth Read more century: Shoo-Fly Regiment (1907), The Red Moon (1909), and Come Over Here (1912). Johnson usually collaborated with his brother, James Weldon Johnson, who produced the song texts, and with vaudeville singer Bob Cole. Johnson did not limit his creative muse to African-inspired music: he wrote songs for a number of white musicals, including The Belle of Bridgeport (1900), Mother Goose (1903), In Newport (1904), and Humpty Dumpty (1904). Though his operettas and musicals have largely been ignored in recent decades, his songs still get a fair amount of attention, especially in song collections on recordings from such labels as EMI, RCA, Cedille, and New World Records.

John Rosamond Johnson was born in Jacksonville, FL, on August 11, 1873. He began piano lessons at four and from 1893 studied piano and voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. He had further studies in London, then Johnson returned to Jacksonville for a time and taught music. In 1899, however, he relocated to New York.

He teamed up with Cole to form a vaudeville act, wherein the two would sing to Johnson's piano accompaniment. The pair, along with Johnson's brother James, soon enjoyed major success on Broadway. Johnson's music developed enormous popularity in that venue and his performances as a singer typically drew critical acclaim. That said, segregation policies sabotaged much of his work, and Johnson and Cole returned to vaudeville for a couple of years before the latter's death in 1911.

Johnson remained active in vaudeville with other performers, but in 1913 he was appointed music director of the London Opera House. From 1914-1919 he served as director of the Harlem-based Music School Settlement for Colored People.

Johnson returned to singing in the 1920s and also served as editor, along with his brother, of two volumes of American Negro Spirituals in 1925 and 1926, respectively. Johnson edited another book of songs, Rolling Along in Song, in 1937. He died in New York in 1954. Read less
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  • 1.
    Steal Away / Georgia Spiritual Ensemble
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1630 Release Date: 06/14/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  J. Rosamond Johnson
    Performer:  Mazelle Webster,  Timothy Harper,  Selina Madison,  Johnetta Tillman
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  The Georgia Spiritual Ensemble
    On sale! $18.98
    CD: $16.99
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