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The J. Rosamond Johnson Papers

 Collection
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.

Dates

  • 1879-1975 (inclusive)

Creator

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.

Arrangement

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

Extent

8 Linear Feet (9 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/music.mss.0021

Overview

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

1873
Born 1873 August 11
1877
Piano lessons with mother begin
1890
To New England Conservatory, Boston
1896
In Oriental America
1896
Supervisor of Music, Jacksonville public schools, 1896-1899
1900
Writes "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" with brother James Weldon, while in Jacksonville.
1901
Cole and Johnson Bros. formed, 1901-1908
1902
"Under the bamboo tree"
1903
Evolution of Ragtime
1904
Campaign song for Roosevelt, "You're all right Teddy"
1906
Shoo-fly Regiment
1906
James Weldon Johnson becomes U.S. consul at Puerto Cabello, Venezuela.
1909
Mr. Lode of Koal with Bert Williams
1910
Bob Cole drowns, suicide?
1912
In the vaudevill circuit with Charles Hart
1912
Director of Oscar Hammerstein's London Opera House
1913
Married to Nora Ethel Floyd
1914
ASCAP formed; 170 members, 6 were black. Rosamond and his brother Jim were among those 6
1914
Returns to the U.S.A. to the New Standard Theatre in Philadelphia
1914
Music Director and trustee at the Music School Settlement for Colored People in New York, 1914-1918
1917
Back with the Orpheum and Keith circuits with the "Rosamond Johnson Quintet"
1918
Becomes 2nd Lieutnant, 15th Infantry, National Guard
1921
Made sub-chief of the Iroquois at Caughawaga, Province of Quebec, Canada
1925
The Book of American Negro Spirituals
1925
Toured with Taylor Gordon, 1925-1926
1926
The Second Book of American Negro Spirituals
1929
Jazz, motion picture including the John Rosamond Johnson Singers
1933
Joe Laurie, Jr.'s, "Memory Lane" review
1935
Plays Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess
1936
Lew Leslie's Blackbirds review, Great Britan tour, 1936-1937
1937
Rolling Along in Song
1939
Plays the Reverend Quintus Whaley in Mamba's Daughters, 1939-1941
1940
Plays Brother Green and directs the J. Rosamond Johnson Singers in Cabin in the Sky
1942
Plays Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess, 1942-1943
1946
Plays Prof. Arnold Harmon in A Young American
1954
Dies 1954 November 11
Title
Register to the J. Rosamond Johnson Papers
Author
Compiled by Adrienne Nesnow. Additions compiled by Emily Ferrigno.
Date
1996-2007
Language of description
Finding aid is in English.

Revision Statements

  • 2007-08-24: music.mss.0021.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with music-migrate-02.xsl (yn2007-08-24).
  • 2007-03-21: music.mss.0021.xml converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 with v1to02.xsl (yn2007-03-20).
  • 2010-01-26: Transformed with yale.addEadidUrl.xsl. Adds @url with handle for finding aid. Overwrites @url if already present.
  • 2010-02-14: Corrected description of clippings in Box 8, Folder 14. Corrected link to image of Johnson.
  • 2015-03-09: Added Series XXIV. Additions. Revised some locations in Series XIII. Corrected typographical error in the Chronology.
  • 2015-07-28: Identified three of the persons depicted in the photographs in Box 4, Folder 7.

Repository Details

Part of the Yale University Music Library Repository

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