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 76-100 of 170 records)

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Columbia W146926 10-in. 8/29/1928 Dusky stevedore Joe Herbert ; Andy Razaf Male vocal solo, with instrumental trio composer  
Columbia 146932 10-in. 8/30/1928 Take your to-morrow (And give me to-day) Jim Andrews ; Arthur Ross and his Westerners Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia W146941 10-in. 9/4/1928 Take your tomorrow (And give me today) Roy Evans Male vocal solo, with piano composer  
Columbia W146962 10-in. 9/7/1928 Dusky stevedore Joe Davis ; Playboys ; Thelma Terry Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia W147010 10-in. 9/17/1928 Explaining J. C. Johnson Male vocal solo, with violin and piano vocalist, composer  
Columbia W147011 10-in. 9/17/1928 Good things come to those who wait J. C. Johnson Male vocal solo, with violin and piano vocalist, composer  
Columbia 147059 10-in. 9/25/1928 Dusky stevedore Irving Kaufman Male vocal solo, with violin, alto saxophone, and piano composer  
Columbia W147107 10-in. 10/5/1928 How long—how long blues Sonny Porter Male vocal solo ("blues singer"), with guitar and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W147108 10-in. 10/5/1928 Deck hand blues Sonny Porter Male vocal solo ("blues singer"), with guitar and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W147484 10-in. 11/23/1928 Someone's teaching me how to forget Roy Evans Male vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W147485 10-in. 11/23/1928 Sweet Louisiana Louise Roy Evans Male vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W147773 10-in. 1/11/1929 If you really love your baby Viola McCoy Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano composer  
Columbia W148109 10-in. 3/20/1929 You can't sleep in my bed Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W148110 10-in. 3/20/1929 Daddy you got ev'rything Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano lyricist, composer, instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W148225 10-in. 4/10/1929 Wobble it a little, daddy Lillian Glinn Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with instrumental trio composer  
Columbia W148226 10-in. 4/10/1929 Black man blues Lillian Glinn Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with instrumental trio composer  
Columbia W148418 10-in. 5/4/1929 Tell the South George Bias Male vocal solo composer, lyricist  
Columbia W148725 10-in. 6/20/1929 Old forsaken blues Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with clarinet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W148726 10-in. 6/20/1929 All around mama Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with clarinet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W148799 10-in. 7/11/1929 Trav'lin' all alone Ethel Waters Female vocal solo, with instrumental ensemble composer, lyricist  
Columbia W148823 10-in. 7/18/1929 My particular man Alberta Hunter Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with guitar and piano composer, lyricist  
Columbia W148824 10-in. 7/18/1929 Can you do that to me Pigmeat Pete and Catjuice Charlie Male vocal duet, with guitar composer  
Columbia W148923 10-in. 8/24/1929 Black dog blues Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet, guitar, and piano composer, instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W148924 10-in. 8/24/1929 Fire and thunder blues Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet, guitar, and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W148972 10-in. 9/4/1929 Breath and breeches Clara Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet, trombone, and piano composer  
(Results 76-100 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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