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 126-150 of 170 records)

Company Matrix No. Size First Recording Date Title Primary Performer Description Role Audio
OKeh W82043 10-in. 12/12/1927 Low land moan Lonnie Johnson Male vocal solo, with guitar composer, lyricist  
OKeh W400828 10-in. 6/26/1928 Empty bed blues Elizabeth Johnson Female vocal solo, with cornet and piano composer, lyricist  
OKeh W400829 10-in. 6/26/1928 Empty bed blues Elizabeth Johnson Female vocal solo, with cornet and piano composer, lyricist  
OKeh W400975 10-in. 6/30/1928 Been some changes made (Since you've been gone) Butterbeans & Susie Female-male vocal duet, with piano composer  
OKeh W400990 10-in. 7/5/1928 Dusky stevedore Frankie Trumbauer’s Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo and male vocal ensemble composer  
OKeh W401116 10-in. 9/14/1928 Take your tomorrow (And give me to-day) Georgia Crackers ; Emmett Miller Male vocal solo, with jazz/dance band composer  
OKeh W401117 10-in. 9/14/1928 Dusky stevedore Georgia Crackers ; Emmett Miller Male vocal solo, with jazz/dance band composer  
OKeh W401133 10-in. 9/20/1928 Take your to-morrow (And give me to-day) Frankie Trumbauer’s Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with dialogue and male vocal solo composer  
OKeh W401139 10-in. 9/21/1928 Louisiana Bix Beiderbecke and his Gang Jazz/dance band composer  
OKeh W401622 10-in. 2/18/1929 It feels so good Lonnie Johnson ; Spencer Williams Male vocal duet, with guitar and piano instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W401623 10-in. 2/18/1929 It feels so good Lonnie Johnson ; Spencer Williams Male vocal duet, with guitar and piano instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W401730 10-in. 3/19/1929 Death is on your track Lonnie Johnson ; Spencer Williams Male vocal duet, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W401748 10-in. 3/26/1929 Big gorilla man Gladys Bentley Female vocal solo, with piano composer, lyricist  
OKeh W401749 10-in. 3/26/1929 Red beans and rice Gladys Bentley Female vocal solo, with piano composer, lyricist  
OKeh W401842 10-in. 5/1/1929 Jet black blues Blind Willie Dunn ; Gin Bottle Four Jazz dance ensemble, with male vocal solo composer, lyricist, instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W401843 10-in. 5/1/1929 Blue blood blues Blind Willie Dunn ; Gin Bottle Four Jazz/dance ensemble, with male vocal solo composer, lyricist, instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W401981 10-in. 5/24/1929 It feels so good Lonnie Johnson ; Spencer Williams Male vocal duet, with guitar and piano instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W401982 10-in. 5/24/1929 It feels so good Lonnie Johnson ; Spencer Williams Male vocal duet, with piano and guitar instrumentalist, piano  
OKeh W403002 10-in. 9/28/1929 It sure is nice Swan and Lee Male vocal duet, with guitar composer, lyricist  
Brunswick 10829 10-in. 6/13/1923 You can’t do what my last man did Minerva Green Female vocal solo, with piano instrumentalist, piano  
Brunswick E27773 10-in. 6/26/1928 Dusky stevedore Al Bernard Male vocal solo, with orchestra composer  
Brunswick IND643 10-in. 6/21/1928 When Charlie Davis Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with vocal; without vocal (take G) composer  
Brunswick C2107 10-in. 7/21/1928 Dusky stevedore Louisiana Rhythm Kings Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Brunswick C2216 10-in. 8/13/1928 Dusky stevedore Louisiana Rhythm Kings Jazz/dance band, with male vocal solo composer  
Brunswick C6125 10-in. Aug. 1930 Trav’lin’ all alone Isham Jones Orchestra Jazz/dance band, with vocal; without vocal (take G) composer, lyricist  
(Results 126-150 of 170 records)

Citation

Discography of American Historical Recordings, s.v. "Johnson, J. C.," accessed October 17, 2021, https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/102868.

Johnson, J. C.. (2021). In Discography of American Historical Recordings. Retrieved October 17, 2021, from https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/names/102868.

"Johnson, J. C.." Discography of American Historical Recordings. UC Santa Barbara Library, 2021. Web. 17 October 2021.

DAHR Persistent Identifier

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

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