J. C. Johnson
Jay Cee Johnson (September 14, 1896 – February 27, 1981), usually known as J. C. Johnson and in some sources, mistakenly, as James C. Johnson (not to be confused with his near-contemporary James P. Johnson), was an American pianist and songwriter, best known for his collaborations with Fats Waller and Bessie Smith.
He was born in Chicago, and moved to New York City in the early 1920s. He began working as a session pianist with singer Ethel Waters, who sang his first recorded song as a writer, "You Can't Do What My Last Man Did" in 1923. He then diversified into songwriting, working with lyricists including Henry Creamer and Andy Razaf. Waters recorded several more J.C. Johnson songs and collaborations, including the first version of "Trav'lin All Alone", subsequently recorded by dozens of artists including Billie Holiday and Billy Eckstine. By 1928 he had begun working with Fats Waller, often contributing lyrics to Waller's music. His first song with Waller was "I'm "Goin Huntin", written in 1927 and recorded by Louie Armstrong, and together they wrote a Broadway show, Keep Shufflin'. (The preceding information is wrong. It was James P. Johnson who co-wrote "Keep Shufflin" with Fats Waller. James P. and J.C. were often confused for each other, and were friends via Fats Waller. The above illustrates how James P. and J.C. continue to be confused with each other.) About this time, he also reportedly used the pseudonym Harry Burke, who was originally credited as the writer of the song "Me and My Gin", recorded in 1928 by Bessie Smith and later recorded by many artists under the title "Gin House Blues" (with the composition later often credited, apparently in error, to Fletcher Henderson). In 1929, he took part as a musician in a collaboration between Italian-American guitarist Eddie Lang and the blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson, together with King Oliver and Hoagy Carmichael, which was given the name "Blind Willie Dunn & His Gin Bottle Four" in order to disguise the inter-racial nature of the group. Among the many artists in the 20s and 30s who sang and recorded his tunes were Ella Fitzgerald, whose first three recorded songs were co-written by Johnson, Connie Boswell, Mamie Smith, Clarence Williams, and Lonnie Johnson. J.C. also had his own band, J.C. Johnson and his Five Hot Sparks and played piano on many other artists' recordings.
In 1930, he wrote a flop Broadway musical, Change Your Luck, which starred Hamtree Harrington and Alberta Hunter. He had greater success, however, in writing songs for Bessie Smith - including "Black Mountain Blues", "Haunted House Blues", and "Empty Bed Blues" (later recorded by LaVern Baker) - and for Fats Waller - including "Believe It, Beloved", "Rhythm and Romance", and "You Stayed Away Too Long". Some of his songs in this period, including two hits for the Boswell Sisters, "That's How Rhythm Was Born" and "Don't Let Your Love Go Wrong", were written in collaboration with Nat Burton and George Whiting. He also worked with Fats Waller and Andy Razaf both separately and together, the three being co-credited for one of Waller's biggest hits, "The Joint Is Jumpin'". Johnson also wrote for Chick Webb's band, which at the time featured singer Ella Fitzgerald, his compositions including "Spinnin' the Webb", "Crying My Heart Out for You", and "You Can't Be Mine (And Someone Else's Too)".
During World War II, Johnson volunteered as an ambulance driver for the U.S. Army. During this time, he and Andy Razaf wrote "Yankee Doodle Tan", honoring the African American soldiers of World War Two, which appeared in the movie Hit Parade of 1943. After Waller's death in 1943, Johnson moved to St. Albans, Queens. He wrote for the Ink Spots and for a time acted as their manager. In the early 1950s, he created theatrical shows including The Year Round, which played in Harlem and was notable for being one of the first shows that Brock Peters performed in (under the name of George Fisher); and, in 1953, Jazz Train. After first playing in a night club at 49th and Broadway, it was taken to London's West End, where it was retooled into a large musical review, playing the Piccadilly Theatre and two command performances for the Queen, before touring England and Europe for three years.
Johnson then moved to the village of Wurtsboro in upstate New York. In the 1970s, he enjoyed the renewed interest in his songs, which appeared in many movies and revues and were recorded by artists such as Bette Midler, Bobby Short and Della Reese. He died February 27, 1981, at the age of 84.
In the fall of 2010, the New York Music Theater Festival presented Trav'lin, a new romantic musical featuring 20 songs written by J.C. Johnson.
Birth and Death Data: Born September 14th, 1896, Died February 27th, 1981
Date Range of DAHR Recordings: 1908 - 1940
Roles Represented in DAHR: composer, piano, lyricist, songwriter, vocalist, adapter
Recordings (Results 1-25 of 170 records)
|Company||Matrix No.||Size||First Recording Date||Title||Primary Performer||Description||Role||Audio|
|Victor||C-6608||12-in.||11/19/1908||Hail blessed Mary||Evan Williams||Tenor vocal solo, with orchestra||adapter|
|Victor||BVE-36069||10-in.||8/27/1926||Goin' crazy with the blues||Mamie Smith||Female vocal solo, with jazz/dance ensemble||composer, instrumentalist, piano|
|Victor||BVE-36070||10-in.||8/27/1926||Sweet Virginia blues||Mamie Smith||Female vocal solo, with jazz/dance ensemble||composer|
|Victor||BVE-36081||10-in.||8/31/1926||What have you done to make me feel this way||Mamie Smith||Female vocal solo, with jazz/dance ensemble||composer, instrumentalist, piano|
|Victor||BVE-36082||10-in.||8/31/1926||I once was yours, I'm somebody else's now||Mamie Smith||Female vocal solo, with jazz/dance ensemble||composer|
|Victor||BVE-43138||10-in.||3/12/1928||When||Paul Whiteman Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal chorus||composer|
|Victor||BVE-43667||10-in.||4/23/1928||Louisiana||Paul Whiteman Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal chorus||composer|
|Victor||BVE-45647||10-in.||6/19/1928||Dusky stevedore||Nathaniel Shilkret ; Victor Orchestra||Orchestra, with male vocal duet||composer|
|Victor||BVE-47538||10-in.||9/20/1928||Dusky stevedore||The Revelers||Male vocal quartet, with piano||composer|
|Victor||BVE-47719||10-in.||10/8/1928||Take your tomorrow (and give me today)||Edwin J. McEnelly Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal duet||composer|
|Victor||BVE-59141||10-in.||2/3/1930||Trav'lin' all alone||McKinney's Cotton Pickers ; George Thomas||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo and male vocal chorus||composer, lyricist|
|Victor||BRC-69636||10-in.||5/21/1931||Dip your brush in sunshine (And keep on painting away)||Wally Ashby ; Memphis Ramblers ; Snooks||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-73342||10-in.||8/31/1932||Three kisses||Eliot Everett Orchestra ; James Harkins||Jazz/dance band (take 3); with male vocal solo (takes 1 and 2)||composer|
|Victor||BS-75104||10-in.||1/27/1933||Honey, do||Louis Armstrong Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-75424||10-in.||4/24/1933||Dusky stevedore||Louis Armstrong Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-78306||10-in.||10/23/1933||That's how rhythm was born||Roy Bargy ; Al Dary ; Peggy Healy||Female vocal solo, with 2 pianos and instrumental trio||composer|
|Victor||BS-82513||10-in.||5/10/1934||Don't let your love go wrong||Isham Jones Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BVE-83821||10-in.||8/3/1934||Don't let your love go wrong||Jean Egart ; Perry Bechtel Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with female vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-84922||10-in.||11/7/1934||Believe it, beloved||Fats Waller and his Rhythm||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-92272||10-in.||6/17/1935||Love and kisses||Jack Shilkret Orchestra||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-92565||10-in.||7/5/1935||Love and kisses||Eddy Duchin Orchestra ; Lew Sherwood||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-92971||10-in.||8/14/1935||Rhythm and romance||California Ramblers ; Ted Wallace||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-92994||10-in.||8/20/1935||Rhythm and romance||Fats Waller and his Rhythm||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-95530||10-in.||10/19/1935||You stayed away too long||California Ramblers ; Eddie Lloyd||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
|Victor||BS-98176||10-in.||11/29/1935||You stayed away too long||Fats Waller and his Rhythm||Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo||composer|
Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Johnson, J. C.," accessed September 21, 2021, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/102868.
Johnson, J. C.. (2021). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/102868.
"Johnson, J. C.." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2021. Web. 21 September 2021.
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