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 51-75 of 170 records)

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Columbia W142715 10-in. 10/2/1926 Texas man Maggie Jones Female vocal solo ("blues singer") composer  
Columbia W144404 10-in. 6/28/1927 Big Ben Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano composer  
Columbia W144956 10-in. 11/4/1927 Empty arms Andy Razaf Male vocal solo, with piano and organ instrumentalist, piano, songwriter  
Columbia W144957 10-in. 11/4/1927 All the world is lonely (For a little blackbird) Andy Razaf Male vocal solo, with piano and organ instrumentalist, piano, composer  
Columbia W145299 10-in. 12/12/1927 Long time men Willie Jackson Male vocal solo, with alto saxophone and piano instrumentalist, piano, lyricist, composer  
Columbia W145400 10-in. 12/12/1927 Corn and bunion blues Willie Jackson Male vocal solo ("blues singer"), with alto saxophone and piano composer, instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W145694 10-in. 2/29/1928 When Ben Selvin and his Orchestra ; Frank Harris Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia 145708 10-in. 3/2/1928 When Ernie Golden and his Orchestra Jazz/dance band composer  
Columbia W145785 10-in. 3/20/1928 Empty bed blues Porter Grainger ; Charlie Green ; Bessie Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with trombone and piano lyricist, composer  
Columbia W145786 10-in. 3/20/1928 Empty bed blues Porter Grainger ; Charlie Green ; Bessie Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with trombone and piano lyricist, composer  
Columbia W146398 10-in. 6/5/1928 Explaining J. C. Johnson Male vocal solo, with piano vocalist, composer  
Columbia W146399 10-in. 6/5/1928 You'll come back to me J. C. Johnson Male vocal solo, with piano vocalist, composer  
Columbia W146553 10-in. 6/18/1928 I ain't got nobody (And nobody cares for me) Roy Evans Male vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W146554 10-in. 6/18/1928 Dusky stevedore Roy Evans Male vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano, composer  
Columbia 146592 10-in. 6/28/1928 Dusky stevedore Golden Gate Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia 146763 10-in. 7/21/1928 Drowsy moonlight Frank Wallace Male vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia 146764 10-in. 7/21/1928 Swanee blue jay Frank Wallace Male vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W146871 10-in. 8/21/1928 Lonesome swallow James P. Johnson ; Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer  
Columbia W146872 10-in. 8/21/1928 Guess who's in town James P. Johnson ; Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer  
Columbia W146874 10-in. 8/21/1928 Do what you did last night James P. Johnson ; Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer  
Columbia W146884 10-in. 8/23/1928 My baby sure knows how to love Ethel Waters Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer, instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W146897 10-in. 8/25/1928 Me and my gin Bessie Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with trombone and piano composer, lyricist  
Columbia W146898 10-in. 8/27/1928 Louisiana Jan Garber Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with male vocal ensemble composer  
Columbia W146923 10-in. 8/28/1928 Mama's well has done gone dry Martha Copeland Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W146924 10-in. 8/28/1928 I ain't your hen, Mister Fly Rooster Martha Copeland Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
(Results 51-75 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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