George W. Johnson


George W. Johnson

George Washington Johnson (October 1846 – most likely January 23, 1914) was a singer and pioneer sound recording artist, the first African-American star of the phonograph. [possibly George Johnson; 67 years; January 23, 1914; certificate #3164; Manhattan. This would have him born in 1847. The ]

Johnson was born in slavery on a plantation in Virginia and around 1885 he married Annie. About 1889 Johnson was whistling on the Staten Island Ferry in New York City when he was heard by someone connected with the infant recording industry (one story says that it was Thomas A. Edison himself). Johnson was invited to record his loud raggy whistling on wax phonograph cylinders for a fee of twenty cents per 2 minute performance. The recording went well, and in 1890 Johnson began recording regularly for various companies in the New York and New Jersey area.

Johnson sang as well as whistled, and also was able to give a boisterous laugh in musical pitch. From this he developed the two performances that made him famous, "The Whistling Coon" and "The Laughing Coon". While on occasion he recorded other material, including whistling the song "Listen to the Mockingbird" and some short minstrel show performances done with other performers, it was these two songs that Johnson would perform and record over and over for years.

In the earliest days of the recording industry, every record was a "master". A strong voiced singer could make a maximum of 5 records at once, as 5 machines with their recording horns pointed towards the singer's mouth were started at the same time. By 1894, Johnson was reported to have sold over 25,000 records recorded this way. He would sometimes sing the same song over and over again in the recording studio fifty or more times a day.

Johnson also made appearances on Vaudeville. His repertory on stage was pretty much limited to his two famous songs, but this was sufficient to get him bookings on bills.

Johnson was hired as a valet by Len Spencer, a Vaudeville star of the era. Spencer and Johnson made a few recordings together.

Johnson made his first disc records in 1895 for Berliner Gramophone. In addition to Berliner, Edison Records, and Columbia, and somewhat later the Victor Talking Machine Company, Johnson recorded for numerous other small cylinder and disc companies through the 1890s and up to about 1910.

Rumors have alleged that the first Black recording star died either in a racism motivated lynching, or alternatively that he was hanged after he committed murder. Neither story is true. George W. Johnson died apparently of natural causes, while in the employ of Len Spencer as doorman for the Lyceum Theater in Manhattan.

References

External links

* [http://home.earthlink.net/~ephemeralist/geowjohnson.html George W. Johnson on the Ragtime Ephemerist] 2 page article with illustrations and RealAudio file of one of Johnson's records
* [http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?query=george+w+johnson&queryType=%40attr+1%3D1 George W. Johnson cylinder recordings] , from the Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara Library.
* [http://www.archive.org/details/GeorgeWJohnson Archive.org Collection of George W. Johnson's music] four different (1898-1902) recordings of The Laughing Song and one each of The Laughing Coon and The Whistling Song


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • George Clayton Johnson — (born July 10, 1929 in Cheyenne, Wyoming) is a science fiction writer most famous for co writing the novel Logan s Run with William F. Nolan. He is also known for his work in television, writing screenplays for such noted series as The Twilight… …   Wikipedia

  • George William Johnson — (* 10. November 1869 bei Charles Town, Jefferson County, West Virginia; † 24. Februar 1944 in Martinsburg, West Virginia) war ein US amerikanischer Politiker. Zwischen 1923 und 1925 und nochmals zwischen 1933 und 1943 vertrat er den vierten… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • George F. Johnson, IV — George F. Johnson IV (D) is the current superintendent of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police, appointed by Governor O Malley in 2007. [ [http://dnr.maryland.gov/dnrnews/pressrelease2007/041607.html Maryland Natural Resources… …   Wikipedia

  • George W. Johnson — George Washington Johnson (* vermutlich im Mai 1850; † vermutlich 23. Januar 1914 in New York City) war ein afroamerikanischer Sänger und einer der ersten Stars der aufkeimenden Musikindustrie. Seine Karriere dauerte von 1890 bis etwa 1910.… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • George Clayton Johnson — (* 10. Juli 1929 in Cheyenne, Wyoming, USA) ist ein US amerikanischer Drehbuchautor und Filmschauspieler. Leben Johnson war vor allem in den 196 …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • George Washington Johnson — may refer to:*George W. Johnson, singer and early recording artist *George W. Johnson (Civil War), Kentucky politician and US Civil War figure …   Wikipedia

  • George William Johnson — may refer to: * George William Johnson (writer) * George William Johnson (politician) …   Wikipedia

  • George A. Johnson — (1829 1894) was California Attorney General. Prior to that, he was Member of California State Assembly 1st District (1863) and served on the State Senate, 1883 87. He is famous for litigating against the railroad companies and forcing them to pay …   Wikipedia

  • George L. Johnson — Para otros usos de este término, véase George Johnson. George Johnson Datos personales Nombre completo George Lee Johnson Nacimiento Brooklyn, Nueva York …   Wikipedia Español

  • George E. Johnson — Para otros usos de este término, véase George Johnson. George Johnson Datos personales Nombre completo George E. Johnson Nacimiento Harleton, Texas …   Wikipedia Español