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 - 1941

Roles Represented in DAHR: composer, piano, lyricist, songwriter, vocalist, adapter

Notes: Pseudonym for J. C. Johnson.

Recordings (Results 26-50 of 170 records)

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Victor BS-102346 10-in. 7/7/1936 Without a shadow of a doubt Connie McLean Rhythm Orchestra ; Alex Miller Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Victor BS-014645 10-in. 10/7/1937 How can I? Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo lyricist  
Victor BS-014646 10-in. 10/7/1937 The joint is jumping Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo lyricist  
Victor BS-014648 10-in. 10/7/1937 What will I do in the morning? Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo lyricist  
Victor BS-014649 10-in. 10/7/1937 How ya baby? Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo lyricist  
Victor BS-022435 10-in. 4/12/1938 Hold my hand Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Victor BS-022436 10-in. 4/12/1938 Inside (This heart of mine) Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Victor BS-026861 10-in. 9/12/1938 You can't be mine (And someone else's too) Gray Gordon ; Shirley Lane ; Tic-Toc Rhythm Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with female vocal solo composer  
Victor BS-027294 10-in. 10/13/1938 Yacht club swing Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band songwriter  
Victor BS-030368 10-in. 12/7/1938 The spider and the fly Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Victor BS-030369 10-in. 12/7/1938 Patty cake, patty cake (Baker man) Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Victor BS-032948 10-in. 3/9/1939 Remember who you're promised to Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Victor BS-035031 10-in. 3/15/1939 Patty cake, patty cake (Baker man) Bunny Berigan Orchestra ; Kathleen Lane Jazz/dance band, with female vocal solo songwriter  
Victor BS-036519 10-in. 4/22/1939 Don't let your love go wrong Johnny Fenton ; Swamp Stompers Jazz/dance band, with vocal composer  
Victor BS-044601 10-in. 1/12/1940 Black Maria Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo lyricist  
Victor BS-067948 10-in. 10/1/1941 That gets it, Mr. Joe Fats Waller and his Rhythm Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo songwriter  
Victor [Trial 1928-02-14-02] 10-in. 2/14/1928 When Larney Young Female vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia 81348 10-in. 11/10/1923 Papa don't you mean your mamma no good Bessie Brown ; Fletcher Henderson ; George W. Williams Female-male vocal duet ("blues singers"), with piano composer, lyricist  
Columbia 81352 10-in. 11/14/1923 The gal ain't born who can treat me like you do Fletcher Henderson ; George W. Williams Male vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano songwriter  
Columbia 81466 10-in. 1/9/1924 Haunted house blues Bessie Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with clarinet and piano composer, lyricist  
Columbia 81469 10-in. 1/9/1924 Eavesdropper's blues Bessie Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with clarinet and piano composer  
Columbia 81539 10-in. 2/8/1924 I won't stand no leaving now Alexander Brown ; George W. Williams Male vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer  
Columbia W142615 10-in. 9/14/1926 Take what you want Ethel Waters ; Pearl Wright Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer, lyricist  
Columbia W142650 10-in. 9/18/1926 We don't need each other any more Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with instrumental quartet composer  
Columbia W142651 10-in. 9/18/1926 My special friend is back in town Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano instrumentalist, piano, composer  
(Results 26-50 of 170 records)

Citation

Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Johnson, J. C.," accessed October 21, 2021, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/102868.

Johnson, J. C.. (2021). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved October 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 October 2021.

DAHR Persistent Identifier

URI: https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/102868

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