CONRAD O. JOHNSON
Known to many simply as "Prof," Conrad Johnson is perhaps the most widely recognized and beloved music educator in Houston. Highly respected as a versatile, passionate saxophonist and leader of the band, Conrad Johnson and His Orchestra, the diminutive octogenarian has for over 50 years been a major force in shaping the Houston sound, which according to Roger Ward of "Living Blues Magazine," is a rich synthesis of the seemingly antithetical elements of down-home Texas blues and sophisticated jazz.
Paul Berlin, KSEV Supertalk Radio 700 AM, renowned radio personality states, "Jazz was born in America, nurtured in America, and we cannot let it die in America. Therefore, I don't know anyone in Houston with the musical qualifications of Conrad Johnson that would be perfect to lead a foundation for the preservation of jazz."
Reflecting on his career, Prof is proud of his accomplishments as a teacher and father, roles he values more than his own reputation as a performer. He muses..."l had a chance to go on the road, but I didn't. A couple of bands, including the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra, came by and tried to get me to go on the road, but I was teaching. And I had a family--a wife and four children--and I didn't feel like leaving them."
Of this, former pop music critic for the Houston Chronicle, Rick Mitchell, said, "Conrad Johnson is one of Houston's unsung cultural heroes. He could have made a national name for himself with his two big bands. Instead he chose to devote his career to educating Houston's future musicians. He is retired from the school system, but he's still hard at work as an educator."
After first attending Houston College for Negroes and later graduating from Wiley College in the east Texas town of Marshall, Johnson began teaching in public schools in 1941. His 37 years of classroom service were highlighted by a distinguished tenure as director of the Kashmere High School Stage Band, which won 42 out of 46 contests entered between 1969 and 1977, recorded eight albums featuring more than 20 original compositions by Johnson and traveled throughout Europe, Japan and the United States.
Johnson mentions local forerunners with deep respect, such as teachers and musicians Abner Jones and Anderson Lacy. But he also has great hope for those who will come after him, especially the fortunate Houston schoolchildren he still reaches each year in summer workshops and his private tutoring in his home.
Jerome Gray, the anchor for KHOU TV 11 says, "Conrad Johnson is truly a Houston treasure. Young jazz lovers need to take advantage of his knowledge in their quest to learn and love music." And so they do. "You'd be surprised at the discipline and the maturity that we've got in those kids,” Johnson beams. “They come out of all kinds of programs, and when they go back they'll become leaders. They are taught writing, composing, arranging, playing in the big band, in the combos, as well as the history of jazz and the blues.” In addition to the music, the students are taught life skills, such as how to survive successfully in this world.
Johnson has made music ranging from the relatively simple, old style blues of L. C. Williams to the most complex orchestrations of the form, and he still delights in experiencing the full spectrum of creative possibilities. And those creative possibilities are evident in his special program. For this is more than a program on music. It is a program about reaching our children, about helping them to become successful and productive citizens.
This program also attempts to address the many problems that plague our young people (i.e., drug abuse, negative peer pressure, teen pregnancy, school drop-out, etc.). Rather than just saying "no" to these negative influences, this program gives the student the opportunity of fulfillment to "not even think about it."
It also attempts to connect our older generation with our young people who are hungry for knowledge and wisdom. Our elderly have knowledge, wisdom, fortitude and endurance. Each helps to meet the need of the other. That is why the program's theme is "sharing our legacy of music through the generations."
Conrad says there are so many ways to help our children. This program's method of choice to help young people attain their goals is Music, for music is the key to the soul. The creative approach is for living well with stress reduction. When one has peace of mind, a restful heart, then one has the tools needed to meet the challenges of the day and the goals of tomorrow.
Conrad Johnson is a music man right down to his toes. But he is also a devoted family man, and he kept his feet firmly planted in Houston because he thought being a good husband and father was just as important as pursuing the star career to which his talent entitled him.