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J. Rosamond Johnson

J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954), an exponent of distinctively Black* music, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. He received a thorough musical education at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Over the years, he pursued an interesting and unusual career as he used his formal training in music to develop a distinctive form Negro* music. Reaching the age of maturity when ragtime was becoming popular in America, Johnson became a composer-producer of vaudeville shows. He rose rapidly from a partnership with the comedian Robert Cole to directing successful musical comedies. For a short period he was director of music for the Music School Settlement of New York, but the lure of the theater caused him to return to the vaudeville stage.

            His musical comedy The Red Moon is remembered for one of its hit songs, “Wrap Me in Your Little Red Shawl.” Johnson collaborated with his brother James Weldon by setting his poetry to music; one of the most outstanding works of the two is “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” long considered the Negro* national hymn. Songs written by Cole and Johnson for Klaw and Erlanger, producers of musical extravaganzas in New York City, were “Under the Bamboo Tree,” “The Congo Love Song,” “Nobody’s Looking But the Owl and the Moon” and “My Castle on the Nile.”

            Johnson went abroad in 1913 to direct a musical comedy at the Hammerstein Opera House in London Palladium in a new musical comedy.

            Returning to America, he worked at the Music School Settlement but soon returned to the stage with the “Rosamond Johnson Quintet.” In 1925, he arranged the music for his brother’s collection The Book of American Negro Spirituals.


Source: International Library of Negro Life and History by Wilhelmena S. Robinson, Publishers Company, Inc., New York, Washington, London under the auspices of The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1967).

*Black has been substituted for the word “Negro” originally used in this citation or the word “Negro” is used in its historical context of respect.







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