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Bill Johnson (1872-1972)

Bill JohnsonBill Johnson (8/10/1872-12/3/1971) and one of the first band leaders to take the New Orleans style of Jazz outside of the city. In 1909 he was the leader of a band in California. In 1912 he sent for Freddie Keppard and several other New Orleans musicians and toured the country until 1918 on the Orpheum circuit under the name of the Original Creole Orchestra. The band was very popular and no doubt introduced their Northern audiences to Jazz for the first time.

Johnson was actually the one who got the gig at the Royal Garden in Chicago, but hired King Oliver to front the band, hence the Original Creole Orchestra eventually became King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, and Johnson continued to play bass in the band until the group broke up in 1923.

He led his own band in Chicago for many years after that and also played in some of Johnny Dodds’ bands. He continued to live and play in Chicago until the 1950’s when he retired from music and moved to Mexico. Bill Johnson’s sister was Anita Johnson Gonzales whom Jelly Roll Morton had a long history with as her lover and business partner. Morton claimed that they were married but no legal documents have ever been found to substantiate this claim.

Bill Johnson (1872-1972)

Original Creole Orchestra Bill Johnson’s Louisiana Jug Band

Bill Johnson (1872-1972)

Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band by Lawrence Gushee, Oxford University Press, 2005

 

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