Johnson, J. Rosamond (John Rosamond), 1873-1954

Alternative names
Birth 1873-08-11
Death 1954-11-11

Biographical notes:

American composer and singer, brother of James Weldon Johnson, known for composing the music to "Lift every voice and sing" for which his brother wrote the lyrics.

From the description of Letter of J. Rosamond Johnson to A.J. Hanna, 1944 February 20. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 70259141

Black American composer, singer, and stage performer.

From the description of The J. Rosamond Johnson papers, 1879-1975 (inclusive). (Yale University). WorldCat record id: 702190373

From the description of The John Rosamond Johnson papers, 1879-1975 (inclusive). (Yale University). WorldCat record id: 122548810

John Rosamond Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 11, 1873. He was a composer, pianist, actor, singer, lyricist, author, and educator. Rosamond began playing the piano at the age of four under the tutelage of his mother, Helen Louise Dillet Johnson. His musical training continued with enrollment at the New England Conservatory of Music and with special instruction in piano, organ, composition, and voice. He studied piano with Charles Dennée and Mme. Dietrich Strong, organ with George Whiting, harmony with Carl Reissman and Davenport Kerrison, and voice with William and Clarence B. Ashenden. He also received an honorary M.A. from Atlanta University in 1917.

Rosamond collaborated with his brother James Weldon Johnson and with Bob Cole on more than 200 songs during their seven years of existence as the Cole and Johnson Brothers. Songs such as "Under the Bamboo Tree," "The Maiden with the Dreamy Eyes," "Congo Love Song," and "My Castle on the Nile," were interpolated into several shows and sung by such people as Bert Williams, Anna Held, Marie Cahill, and Lillian Russell. Rosamond and his brother James Weldon composed and wrote the lyrics to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," considered to be the "black national anthem." Rosamond is also the author of two books containing his arrangements of spirituals, which he popularized in his recitals with Taylor Gordon in 1925/1926.

Rosamond appeared in vaudeville with various circuits, and in 1933 he, as well as W.C. Handy, returned in Joe Laurie, Jr.'s, "Memory Lane" review. His acting career sky-rocketed in the 30s and 40s with roles in Porgy and Bess, Mamba's Daughters, Cabin in the Sky, and A Young American .

Johnson held two administrative positions in educational institutions. He was Supervisor of Music in the Jacksonville public schools from 1896 to 1898 and was the Music Director and a trustee at the Music School Settlement for Colored People in New York from 1914 to 1918.

  • 1873: Born 1873 August 11
  • 1877: Piano lessons with mothe begin
  • 1890: To New England Conservatory, Boston
  • 1896: In Oriental America
  • 1896: Supervisor of Music, Jacksonville public schools, 1896-1899
  • 1900: Writes "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" with brother James Weldon, while in Jacksonville.
  • 1901: Cole and Johnson Bros. formed, 1901-1908
  • 1902: "Under the bamboo tree"
  • 1903: Evolution of Ragtime
  • 1904: Campaign song for Roosevelt, "You're all right Teddy"
  • 1906: Shoo-fly Regiment
  • 1906: James Weldon Johnson becomes U.S. consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela.
  • 1909: Mr. Lode of Koal with Bert Williams
  • 1910: Bob Cole drowns, suicide?
  • 1912: In the vaudevill circuit with Charles Hart
  • 1912: Director of Oscar Hammerstein's London Opera House
  • 1913: Married to Nora Ethel Floyd
  • 1914: ASCAP formed; 170 members, 6 were black. Rosamond and his brother Jim were among those 6
  • 1914: Returns to the U.S.A. to the New Standard Theatre in Philadelphia
  • 1914: Music Director and trustee at the Music School Settlement for Colored People in New York, 1914-1918
  • 1917: Back with the Orpheum and Keith circuits with the "Rosamond Johnson Quintet"
  • 1918: Becomes 2nd Lieutnant, 15th Infantry, National Guard
  • 1921: Made sub-chief of the Iroquois at Caughawaga, Province of Quebec, Canada
  • 1925: The Book of American Negro Spirituals
  • 1925: Toured with Taylor Gordon, 1925-1926
  • 1926: The Second Book of American Negro Spirituals
  • 1929: Jazz, motion picture including the John Rosamond Johnson Singers
  • 1933: Joe Laurie, Jr.'s, "Memory Lane" review
  • 1935: Plays Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess
  • 1936: Lew Leslie's Blackbirds review, Great Britan tour, 1936-1937
  • 1937: Rolling Along in Song
  • 1939: Plays the Reverend Quintus Whaley in Mamba's Daughters, 1939-1941
  • 1940: Plays Brother Green and directs the J. Rosamond Johnson Singers in Cabin in the Sky
  • 1942: Plays Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess, 1942-1943
  • 1946: Plays Prof. Arnold Harmon in A Young American
  • 1954: Dies 1954 November 11

From the guide to the The J. Rosamond Johnson Papers, 1879-1975 (inclusive), (Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University)


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  • Musicals--Excerpts
  • Music--20th century
  • African American composers--Correspondence
  • Music--United States--19th century
  • Afro--American composers--Correspondence
  • Vaudeville--United States
  • African Americans--Music
  • Vaudeville
  • Popular music--1921-1930
  • Songs
  • Music--United States--20th century
  • Afro--American composers--Diaries
  • Spirituals (Songs)
  • Music--19th century
  • Music--Manuscripts
  • African American composers--Diaries
  • Songs (medium voice) with piano
  • Songs (High voice) with piano
  • Musical revues, comedies, etc.--Excerpts


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  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)