Ella Johnson was born on June 22nd,1917 in Darlington, South Carolina (1). She would live there until 1939 when she moved to New York City to perform with her brother, Buddy Johnson. Buddy was two years older than her and the lead band member at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, New York (1).
Soon after in 1940, Johnson recorded her first hit song, “Please Mr. Johnson” which is featured in the video below. She continued to release many hits in the next decade including a recording of her brother’s composition called “Since I Fell For You” that is now considered a jazz standard and it became even more popular when recorded by Lenny Welch (2). She became known as an American jazz and rhythm and blues vocalist.
Buddy and Ella Johnson came to Clemson College because they were hired by the Clemson Dance Association (CDA) to perform on November 20th and 21st, 1953 at the Homecoming events and dances for the weekend (3). Buddy Johnson led the “Walk ‘Em Rhythm” 14-piece orchestra along with the two lead singers: Ella Johnson and Nolan Lewis (4). On Friday afternoon, they held a concert in the Chapel which is now Old Main and they also provided the music for the formal dance that evening with tickets being 25¢ (5). On Saturday evening, they performed at the informal dance at the Field House which today is the Fike Recreation Center, where you might be standing (5).
Ella Johnson would continue to perform with Buddy Johnson into the 1960s. In the years following, she stayed in Harlem to support Buddy as he battled cancer, passing away in 1977 (1). Ella Johnson passed away on February 16th, 2004 because of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2012, both the Johnsons were inducted into the South Carolina Music Hall of Fame and the Blues Hall of Fame (2).