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The J. Rosamond Johnson Papers

Call Number: MSS 21

Scope and Contents

The J. Rosamond Johnson Papers document Johnson's varied career as a composer, actor, vaudeville performer, and administrator. The Papers contain sketches, manuscript scores, and published editions of Johnson's musical compositions and arrangements. The correspondence includes letters to and from Johnson and family members, musicians, writers, and political figures. Johnson's life and work are further documented by: programs, newspaper clippings, and advertisements; diaries and scrapbooks; photographs; business and financial records; and miscellaneous items.

Researchers may also wish to consult the papers of Johnson's brother, James Weldon Johnson, at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University. (Beinecke also has several other collections relating to the Johnsons.) Researchers interested in Rosamond Johnson's daughter, Mildred Louise Johnson Edwards, and her work with the Modern School may wish to consult The Modern School Collection at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as well as the Ethical Culture Fieldston School Records at the New-York Historical Society.


  • 1879-1975 (inclusive)


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to researchers by appointment. There are no restricted materials in the collection. Please contact the Special Collections staff to schedule an appointment.

Some of the materials may be stored at the Library's off-campus shelving facility, so researchers should allow at least two business days to have the appropriate boxes paged.

Conditions Governing Use

The J. Rosamond Johnson Papers are the physical property of the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University. Copyrights belong to the composers and authors, or their legal heirs and assigns.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The J. Rosamond Johnson Papers were established in the Music Library of Yale University by Johnson's daughter, Mildred Louise Johnson Edwards, in 1977. Series XXIV, Additions, consists of materials purchased from J. Rosamond Johnson’s great-granddaughter, Melanie Edwards, in 2011.


In 24 Series as follows: I. Correspondence. II. Programs. III. Newspaper Clippings. IV. Advertisements. V. Biographical Notes. VI. Diaries. VII. Documents. VIII. Business and Calling Cards, etc. IX. Rules and Regulations for Professional Organizations. X. Books. XI. Photographs. XII. Items Transferred to Other Collections. XIII. Miscellaneous Items. XIV. Lyrics. XV. Vaudeville Sketches, etc. XVI. Radio Sketches? XVII. Poetry. XVIII. List of Music, etc. XIX. Musical Works by Johnson. XX. Musical Works Arranged or Edited by Johnson. XXI. Microfilm of Johnson's Works. XXII. Indices By Show. XXIII. Musical Works by Others. XXIV. Additions


8 Linear Feet (9 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


Music, correspondence and other papers, photographs, and additional materials by and about the African-American musician, writer, actor, and educator J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954).

Biographical / Historical

John Rosamond Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 11, 1873. He was a composer, pianist, actor, singer, lyricist, author, and educator. Rosamond began playing the piano at the age of four under the tutelage of his mother, Helen Louise Dillet Johnson. His musical training continued with enrollment at the New England Conservatory of Music and with special instruction in piano, organ, composition, and voice. He studied piano with Charles Dennée and Mme. Dietrich Strong, organ with George Whiting, harmony with Carl Reissman and Davenport Kerrison, and voice with William and Clarence B. Ashenden. He also received an honorary M.A. from Atlanta University in 1917.

Rosamond collaborated with his brother James Weldon Johnson and with Bob Cole on more than 200 songs during their seven years of existence as the Cole and Johnson Brothers. Songs such as "Under the Bamboo Tree," "The Maiden with the Dreamy Eyes," "Congo Love Song," and "My Castle on the Nile," were interpolated into several shows and sung by such people as Bert Williams, Anna Held, Marie Cahill, and Lillian Russell. Rosamond and his brother James Weldon composed and wrote the lyrics to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," considered to be the "black national anthem." Rosamond is also the author of two books containing his arrangements of spirituals, which he popularized in his recitals with Taylor Gordon in 1925/1926.

Rosamond appeared in vaudeville with various circuits, and in 1933 he, as well as W.C. Handy, returned in Joe Laurie, Jr.'s, "Memory Lane" review. His acting career sky-rocketed in the 30s and 40s with roles in Porgy and Bess, Mamba's Daughters, Cabin in the Sky, and A Young American.

Johnson held two administrative positions in educational institutions. He was Supervisor of Music in the Jacksonville public schools from 1896 to 1898 and was the Music Director and a trustee at the Music School Settlement for Colored People in New York from 1914 to 1918.

Time Line

Born 1873 August 11
Piano lessons with mother begin
To New England Conservatory, Boston
In Oriental America
Supervisor of Music, Jacksonville public schools, 1896-1899
Writes "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" with brother James Weldon, while in Jacksonville.
Cole and Johnson Bros. formed, 1901-1908
"Under the bamboo tree"
Evolution of Ragtime
Campaign song for Roosevelt, "You're all right Teddy"
Shoo-fly Regiment
James Weldon Johnson becomes U.S. consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela.
Mr. Lode of Koal with Bert Williams
Bob Cole drowns, suicide?
In the vaudevill circuit with Charles Hart
Director of Oscar Hammerstein's London Opera House
Married to Nora Ethel Floyd
ASCAP formed; 170 members, 6 were black. Rosamond and his brother Jim were among those 6
Returns to the U.S.A. to the New Standard Theatre in Philadelphia
Music Director and trustee at the Music School Settlement for Colored People in New York, 1914-1918
Back with the Orpheum and Keith circuits with the "Rosamond Johnson Quintet"
Becomes 2nd Lieutnant, 15th Infantry, National Guard
Made sub-chief of the Iroquois at Caughawaga, Province of Quebec, Canada
The Book of American Negro Spirituals
Toured with Taylor Gordon, 1925-1926
The Second Book of American Negro Spirituals
Jazz, motion picture including the John Rosamond Johnson Singers
Joe Laurie, Jr.'s, "Memory Lane" review
Plays Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess
Lew Leslie's Blackbirds review, Great Britan tour, 1936-1937
Rolling Along in Song
Plays the Reverend Quintus Whaley in Mamba's Daughters, 1939-1941
Plays Brother Green and directs the J. Rosamond Johnson Singers in Cabin in the Sky
Plays Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess, 1942-1943
Plays Prof. Arnold Harmon in A Young American
Dies 1954 November 11
Register to the J. Rosamond Johnson Papers
Edited Full Draft
Compiled by Adrienne Nesnow. Additions compiled by Emily Ferrigno.
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared According To Local Music Library Descriptive Practices
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Gilmore Music Library Repository

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