James P. Johnson

(1894 - 1955)

James P. JohnsonJames Price Johnson was one of the originators and greatest practitioners of the improvisational piano style known as Stride as well as a successful composer and recording artist. Born in New Jersey, Johnson grew up in New York and began performing in his teens. Playing Harlem "rent parties" and "sporting houses," he became part of the same scene that featured Luckey Roberts, and Willie "The Lion" Smith. Johnson’s keyboard prowess brought him hundreds of session jobs accompanying great early female recording stars like Ida Cox, Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith. He also wrote songs and scored revues and musicals alongside lyricists Henry Creamer, Andy Razaf and R.C. McPherson, creating such standards as "If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight)," "A Porter’s Love Song to a Chambermaid" and the song that helped popularize a worldwide dance craze of the same name, "Charleston." Johnson taught Duke Ellington and Fats Waller and was a major influence on many pianists, including Teddy Wilson, Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk.