Hall Johnson

Hall Johnson is known for his choral and vocal/piano arrangements of African American Spirituals and songs; he was also known as a violinist and violist, as well as the director of the Hall Johnson Choir, which became famous by appearing in stage and film productions.

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    A native of Athens, Georgia, (Francis) Hall Johnson had a tremendous career in music and a lasting influence in the genres of African American classic song and Spirituals. He began his musical endeavors as a boy when he taught himself to play violin after attending a violin recital given by Joseph Henry Douglas. He went on to study at the Juilliard School and soon after began playing violin and viola professionally. In time, he would take an interest in choral music. He produced a number of choral spiritual settings and went on to form a several award winning choral ensembles, the first of which being the Hall Johnson Negro Choir. Johnson’s choirs were also featured in a number of motion picture sound tracks.

    Hall Johnson was able to achieve amazing things through his life but this does not undercut the fact that the time he grew up in was a difficult one for African Americans. With the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan in 1915 and the ever-tightening grip of Jim Crow, making music was the last thing on many people’s minds.

    Though conditions for creative expression were less than ideal, Johnson pressed forward, helping to elevate the status of African American Spirituals and songs to an art form. His dozens of solo and choral settings along with few cantatas are still performed today. Most importantly, he showed through his life’s work that the music of African American musicians is that of authentic expression and a genre worthy of study and preservation.

    –Darius A. Gillard (Christie Finn, ed.)

    This biographical essay is made possible because of the Song of AmericaInitiative for African-American Classic Song, a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and Dr. Scott Piper’s Winter 2016 course “The Art Songs of African American Composers” at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.


    Johnson, Hall, and Laura Ward. Thirty Spirituals for High Voice and Piano. New York, NY: G. Schirmer, 2007. Musical score.

    Simpson, Eugene Thamon. Hall Johnson: His Life, His Spirit, and His Music. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2008.

    Southern, Eileen. “Johnson, Hall.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 22 Nov. 2016. <http://0-www.oxfordmusiconline.com.library.msmnyc.edu/subscriber/article/grove/music/14406>

    Related Information




    "Singing Justice" Seminar Recital

    (Margaret Bonds, Henry T. Burleigh, Maud Cuney Hare, Adolphus C. Hailstork, Lori Hicks, Hall Johnson, John Rosamond Johnson, Undine Smith Moore, Robert L. Morris, Robert Owens, Rosephanye Powell, Florence Price, Brandon J Spencer and Spiritual)


    View recording

    I, Too

    (H. Leslie Adams, Margaret Bonds, Undine Smith Moore, Florence Price and Hall Johnson)


    How Sweet the Sound

    (Margaret Bonds, Henry T. Burleigh, Maria Thompson Corley, Jacqueline Hairston, Moses Hogan, Hall Johnson, Thomas H. Kerr, Betty Jackson King, Robert L. Morris, Hale Smith, Spiritual and George Walker)


    He'll Bring It To Pass: The Spirituals of Hall Johnson

    (Hall Johnson)


    Sheet Music

    Mother to Son

    Composer(s): Hall Johnson

    Buy via Carl Fischer Music

    Second Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers (Out-of-Print)

    Composer(s): Leslie Adams, Adolphus Hailstork, John Rosamond Johnson, Hall Johnson, Betty Jackson King, Howard Swanson, John W. Work III

    Song(s): "Prayer" (H. Leslie Adams)
    "Flying" (H. Leslie Adams)
    "Midas, Poor Midas" (H. Leslie Adams)
    "Christ at a Wedding" (H. Leslie Adams)
    "The Future" (T.J. Anderson)
    "I Want to Be Free" (T.J. Anderson)
    "People" (T.J. Anderson)
    "Life" (T.J. Anderson)
    "Hymn to Parnassus"(R. Nathaniel Dett)
    "Music I Heard with You" (Roger Dickerson)
    "I Dream a World" (Uzee Brown Jr.)
    "If He Only Walked in Gardens" (Mark Fax)
    "Entreat Me Not" (Mark Fax)
    "Slave Song" (Adolphus Hailstork)
    "Songs of Love and Justice": "Justice," "Difficulties," "Decisions," "Love" (Adolphus Hailstork)
    "Four Love Songs: "My Heart to Thy Heart," "Invitation to Love," "Longing," "Goodnight," "If we must die"(Adolphus Hailstork)
    "Three Simple Songs": "In Vain," "The Daffodils," "Christmas Everywhere" (Adolphus Hailstork)
    "Lil' gal" (J. Rosamond Johnson)
    "Crossing the Bar" (Hall Johnson)
    "The Foundling" (Hall Johnson)
    "Thou Art My Lute" (Thomas Kerr Jr.)
    "In Memoriam" (Thomas Kerr Jr.)
    "Soliloquy (Haunted)" (Thomas Kerr Jr.)
    "When You Feel a Little Blue" (James Lee III)
    "Three Dunbar Poems": "Compensation," "Theology," "Dawn" (Betty Jackson King)
    "Hatred" (Robert L. Morris)
    "Ubique" (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
    "The Faithless Shepherdess" (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
    From "Thirteen Jazz Settings": "In Case You Put Me Down," "They All Say You're Lovely," "No, Babe, We Never Swing," "You are Not Quite the Air," "In Your Arms Baby" (Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson)
    "One Day" (Howard Swanson)
    "Snow Dunes" (Howard Swanson)
    "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" (John W. Work, III)

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