Hall Johnson

1888 - 1970

Biography:

Hall Johnson (1888 – 1970) was born in Athens, Georgia in 1888 to Alice Virginia Sanson Johnson and William Decker Johnson, a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. His musical talent was apparent from childhood when he studied piano with his older sister, Mary, and taught himself to play violin from a learner’s manual.  His grandmother, Mary Hall Jones, a former slave, had the greatest influence on his later life. She and his mother sang authentic black spirituals that implanted the sound and harmonies of the past culture. Johnson graduated from Knox Institute in 1903 and pursued higher education at several universities before earning a B.A. in music at the University of Pennsylvania in 1910. He later studied at the University of Southern California and the Julliard School.  Johnson married Celeste Corpening in Athens in 1912. Moving to Harlem in New York City, Johnson opened a studio, teaching violin and other instruments, as well as playing violin in several groups such as the Negro String Quartet, which performed a classical European repertoire and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, a blues and popular music group. He was also part of the orchestra for Eubie Blake’s Broadway musicals, Shuffle Along and Runnin’ Wild. Johnson gained national attention when he wrote the arrangements, and his choir performed in Marc Connelly’s Green Pastures. In 1933 his own folk opera, Run Little Chillun, enjoyed a four-month run on Broadway. Johnson took his choir to California to sing for the film version of Green Pastures. He would remain there until the mid-1940s participating in, or arranging music for, a number of popular motion pictures, such as Banjo on my Knee, Lost Horizon, and Birth of the Blues. In addition, he formed the Festival Choir of Los Angeles.  It was the 1943 picture, Cabin in the Sky, however, that most disappointed him.  In spite of an all-star black cast, MGM did not make a profit from the movie because southern states refused to show the film. Johnson gained national attention when he wrote the arrangements, and his choir performed in Marc Connelly’s Green Pastures. Returning to New York, Johnson formed the Festival Negro Choir of New York that performed his cantata, Son of Man, in 1946.  He published many articles and a collection entitled Thirty Spirituals Arranged for Voice and Piano. Johnson also coached several famous singers such as Marian Anderson, Harry Belafonte, Robert McFerrin, and Shirley Verrett. In 1951 the State Department chose the Hall Johnson Choir to represent the U.S. at the International Festival of Fine Arts in Germany.

Hall Johnson died in New York City in 1970 at the age of 82.  He posthumously received the Handel Award and was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

(source: http://www.blackpast.org/aah/johnson-francis-hall-1888-1970)

Works by Hall Johnson:

Act 2: My Lord's a -Writin' All de Time
Mother to Son
What Kinder Shoes
Act 1: Cert'n'y, Lord
Act 1: De Ol' Ark's a Moverin'
Act 1: Dere's No Hidin' Place Down Dere
Act 1: Doncher Let Nobody Turn You Roun'
Act 1: Hallelujah
Act 1: I Want to be Ready
Act 1: In Bright Mansions Above
Act 1: My God is So High
Act 1: Oh, Rise an' Shine
Act 1: Run, Sinner, Run!
Act 1: Some o' Dese Days
Act 1: When de Saints Come Marchin' In
Act 1: Witness
Act 1: You Better Min'!
Act 2: De Blin' Man Stood on de Road an' Cried
Act 2: Death's Go'n'ter Lay His Col', Icy Hands on Me
Act 2: Go Down, Moses
Act 2: Hail! De King of Babylon
Act 2: Hallelujah! King Jesus
Act 2: I Can't Stay Away
Act 2: Joshua Fit de Battle of Jericho
Act 2: Lord, I Don't Feel Noways Tired
Act 2: March On!
Act 2: Oh, Mary, Doncher Weep
Ain't Got Time to Die
At the Feet of Jesus
City Called Heaven
City Called Heaven
Couldn' Hear Nobody Pray
Crossing the Bar
Crucifixion
David
Ev'ry Time I Feel de Spirit
Ev'ry Time I Feel de Spirit
Fi-yer
Fix Me, Jesus
Fix Me, Jesus
Give Me Jesus
Heaven is One Beautiful Place
Heaven is One Beautiful Place
His Name So Sweet
Hol' De Light
Honor, Honor
Honor, Honor
I Cannot Stay Here by Myself
I Got to Lie Down
I Got to Lie Down
I'm Callin'
I'm Gonter Tell God All o'My Troubles
I'm Gonter Tell God All o'My Troubles
I'm Gonter Tell God All o'My Troubles
John Henry
Le's Have a Union
Le's Have a Union
Let De Heb'n-Light Shine On Me
My God is So High
My Good Lord Done Been Here
My Good Lord Done Been Here
Oh, Glory!
On the Dusty Road (Work Song)
Po' Moaner Got a Home, At Las
Po' Moaner Got a Home, At Las
Ride On, King Jesus
Ride On, King Jesus
Ride On, King Jesus
River Chant
Roll, Jerd'n, Roll
Steal Away
Swing Dat Hammer
Take My Mother Home
The Courtship
The Foundling
Wade In De Water
Way Up In Heaven
Witness
Witness