Lonnie Johnson / Feb 8, 1899 - June 16, 1970

A pioneering guitarist and violinist (and a popular singer) in blues and jazz, Lonnie Johnson came from a musical family in New Orleans and learned to play several instruments. He toured the UK for two years and returned home to find that nearly his entire family, save his brother, were killed by the flu epidemic of 1918. The two brothers worked the riverboat scene and Lonnie married blues musician Mary Johnson. In the '20s he recorded several sides for Okeh and toured with Bessie Smith. In 1927 he recorded with Louis Armstrong and with Duke Ellington the following year. His 1929 work with Eddie Lang may very well be the first integrated act on recordings. After laying low and working a regular job during the Depression, he returned in the '40s as an R&B singer and later as part of the folk & blues revival. In the late '60s he moved to Toronto and opened a club. He was hit by a car in '69 and his health rapidly declined. He made his last appearance singing a couple songs onstage with Buddy Guy in February 1970, dying a few months later. He was considered an influence on Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson and Django Reinhardt, as well as Lonnie Donnegan and Bob Dylan. In fact, he proved to be an enormously influential artist.

Check out this fine example of his talents on the 1937 solo recording of "Swing Out Rhythm":

And how about this footage of him from much later in his life, 1963 to be exact, sounding as strong as ever:

Tagged: blues, Celebrate Icons, guitar, jazz, Lonnie Johnson, Video, vintage footage

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published