Monday, December 7, 2009

Rest in Peace, Ralph Johnson (1938-2009)

Sad news today. A much-loved member of our family has passed. Ralph Johnson, clarinet player here at Preservation Hall and on the road with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band for nearly twenty years, died early this morning. He was a wonderful human being and will be missed very much.

Please follow this link to listen to Mr. Johnson's lovely playing on a recent rendition of the Sidney Bechet classic, Le Petit Fleur...

Ralph Johnson, clarinet
Born August 24, 1938
Died December 7, 2009

Played with: Jerry Butler, the Impressions, Dr. John, Wallace Davenport, Johnny Adams, Chuck Carbo

Musicians teemed through the Sixth Ward district where Ralph Johnson was raised. His father, Son Johnson, was a clarinetist; when he handed the instrument to his son when Ralph was seven years old, the moment embedded itself in Ralph's memory as a solemn rite of passage. Still, making music proved anything but solemn for the young artist, who has since spent decades onstage with New Orleans artists of every style. Playing all reed instruments as well as flute and piano, he performed on his first gig at thirteen -- he had to lie about his age to even be allowed into the 21 and over venue. His connection to Preservation Hall dates back to appearances there with drummer Chester Jones and other bandleaders. For more than ten years Johnson has been a beloved member of the Preservation Hall band, in which he carries on the great traditions of clarinet artistry established in years past by Willie Humphrey and George Lewis.

"Preservation Hall is a place where you can play what's in your soul and make people happy. It's not about playing for yourself; it's playing to see a smile. The more smiles I see, the happier I am. When you play this music, you let your spirit go. You let your spirit say what it has to say. You play your heart out for the people because it makes you happy, just like it makes them happy. That's all that you can do. Why waste this precious time in your life doing anything that doesn't make people smile?" "I've played it all -- rock & roll, straight-ahead -- because all of it, all music, is made by God, not man. That's why I love the whole picture."

We will post information regarding memorial services as that information becomes available.


meeke said...

I would like to thank you for posting such a beautiful blog about my uncle Ralph Johnson.
He was truly loved and will be missed but forever in our hearts.

Thank you,
Timeka Johnson Junius

J. Lloyd Miller said...

You're very welcome, Timeka. But it was truly our honor to be able to enjoy his music and share it with audiences for so many years.

Many thanks to you and yours,
~Preservation Hall

Jeffro said...

I am sorry to hear about the passing of Mr. Johnson. He was a wonderful musician who played with great spirit. My prayers go out to his family, friends, and fellow musicians.