Conrad O. Johnson was a legendary music composer and former director of the Kashmere Stage Band in Houston, Texas. Also called “Thunder Soul,” the award-winning band was founded by Johnson at the predominately black Kashmere High School. Under Johnson’s direction, the school band recorded eight albums and became national champions from the 1960’s to 1978. The band traveled to Europe and Japan to spread their sound across the world.
Conrad “Prof” Johnson graduated from Wiley College and was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Incorporated. He worked with the Count Basie Orchestra and was asked to join Erskine Hawkins’ band, but turned it down because he just wanted to teach music. After attending an Otis Redding concert in 1967, he knew what kind of music he wanted to teach.
Johnson wrote the songs for the band, including “Zero Point,” “Lost Love” and “Kashmere”. He owned Kram Records, which was the label for each of the eight albums and three LPs recorded by the Kashmere Stage Band. The band was voted “Best Stage Band in the Nation” in 1972.
Johnson taught students from 1941 to 1978. He was inducted into the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame in 2000. His compositions for the Kashmere Band were sampled on a Handsome Boy Modeling School album. DJ Shadow’s track, “Holy Calamity (Bear Witness II)”, samples “Kashmere” from the album Kashmere Stage Band Plays Originals.
In 2008, Director Mark Landsman filmed a documentary about the legendary band called “Thunder Soul,” named after the band’s third album. As part of the final cuts, thirty of the former band members reunited and reminisced for two concert performances, still seeking the approval of Conrad “Prof” Johnson, who was then 92 years old. The film, which was narrated by Academy Award winner and executive producer, Jamie Foxx, was released in 2010. It was nominated for five major documentary awards (including 2 NAACP Image Awards) and won a Lone Star State award at the SXSW Festival.
Conrad Johnson passed away in 2008, hours after the final reunion concert was performed in his honor. In his memoriam, the Conrad Johnson Music and Fine Arts Foundation at Texas Southern University was established.
Listen to music by the Kashmere Stage Band below.