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 101-125 of 170 records)

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
Columbia W149106 10-in. 10/7/1929 Peddlin' man Liza Brown Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano lyricist, composer  
Columbia W149107 10-in. 10/7/1929 If papa has outside lovin' Liza Brown Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano lyricist, composer  
Columbia W149455 10-in. 10/31/1929 Daddy, you're a low-down man Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with instrumental trio composer, instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W149456 10-in. 10/31/1929 Unhappy blues Mary Dixon Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with instrumental trio composer, instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W149634 10-in. 12/31/1929 You'll regret J. C. Johnson Male vocal solo, with piano composer, vocalist, lyricist  
Columbia W149635 10-in. 12/31/1929 Ev'rybody seems to have somebody but me J. C. Johnson Male vocal solo, with piano vocalist  
Columbia W150657 10-in. 7/22/1930 Hustlin' Dan Bessie Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano composer  
Columbia W150684 10-in. 8/1/1930 Why can't you do it now? Clara Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W150685 10-in. 8/1/1930 Low land moan Clara Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano instrumentalist, piano, composer, lyricist  
Columbia W150767 10-in. 9/5/1930 Big Ben Bennett's Swamplanders Jazz/dance band composer  
Columbia W150768 10-in. 9/5/1930 You can't be mine and someone else's too Bennett's Swamplanders Jazz/dance band composer  
Columbia W150769 10-in. 9/5/1930 Jet black blues Bennett's Swamplanders Jazz/dance band composer  
Columbia W150783 10-in. 9/9/1930 Woman to woman Clara Smith Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with cornet and piano instrumentalist, piano  
Columbia W150810 10-in. 9/16/1930 Take your tomorrow Edgewater Beach Hotel Orchestra [Lloyd Keating and his Music] ; Freddy Mark Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia W150811 10-in. 9/16/1930 Guess who's in town (Nobody but that gal of mine) Bill Coty ; Hotel Pennsylvania Music [Lloyd Keating and his Music] Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia W151513 10-in. 4/13/1931 Dip your brush in the sunshine (And keep on painting away) Ted Lewis and his Band Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Columbia W151690 10-in. 7/17/1931 What's your price? Lena Wilson Female vocal solo ("blues singer"), with piano composer  
Columbia W152292 10-in. 8/29/1932 Somebody loses—somebody wins Three Keys Male vocal trio, with guitar and piano composer  
OKeh S-71512 10-in. May 1923 From now on blues Eva Taylor ; Clarence Williams Female vocal solo, with piano songwriter  
OKeh S-71675 10-in. July 1923 You can't do what my last man did Mamie Smith Female vocal solo, with piano composer  
OKeh 73925 10-in. Jan. 1926 I've learned to do without you now Louise Vant Female vocal solo, with jazz/dance quartet lyricist, composer  
OKeh W81869 10-in. 11/26/1927 If Papa has outside lovin' Helen Humes Female vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano, lyricist, composer  
OKeh W81870 10-in. 11/26/1927 Do what you did last night Helen Humes Female vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano, composer  
OKeh W81871 10-in. 11/26/1927 Everybody does it now Helen Humes Female vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W81877 10-in. 11/27/1927 Rock pile blues Sylvester Weaver Male vocal solo, with 2 guitars composer, lyricist  
(Results 101-125 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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