Hall Johnson was a legendary composer who built one of the most beloved black choirs in the country. Johnson’s choirs went to Broadway, performing in the 1930 production of Marc Connelly’s “The Green Pastures”, which was later adapted for both TV and film. It was Hall Johnson’s Negro Choir that was behind the classic Disney cartoon “Dumbo” for which they were uncredited for their work. In 1955, Hall Johnson’s all-black Singing Sprites Children’s Choir won the 1955 Original Mickey Mouse Club Show Talent Roundup.
Francis Hall Johnson is a native of Athens, Georgia. He was formally trained at Julliard School, performing professionally on the violin and viola. Johnson was part of the 1921 musical production of “Shuffle Along” by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. An accomplished and traveled man, Johnson spoke fluent French and German.
Johnson’s love of the choir led to the launch of his first in 1925 with the Hall Johnson Negro Choir. In just a few years, Johnson’s choirs had performed in 30 feature-length Hollywood films and cartoons, including Walt Disney’s Dumbo (1941).
He taught students who would make historical strides themselves, including Marian Anderson, Robert McFerrin and Shirley Verrett.
In 1951, the Hall Johnson Choir was selected by the U.S. Department of State to represent the United States at the International Festival of Fine Arts in Berlin, Germany.
Hall Johnson’s life would end on April 30, 1970 when he died in an apartment fire. He was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame five years later.