Lonnie Johnson

Alfonzo "Lonnie" Johnson (February 8, 1894 - June 6, 1970) was a pioneering blues and jazz singer/guitarist born in New Orleans, Louisiana. There is some dispute over the year of his birth, but 1894 is what appears on his passport. He was a pioneer of jazz guitar as the first to play single-string guitar solos. [citation needed] Raised in a family of musicians, Johnson studied violin and guitar as a child, but concentrated on the latter throughout his professional career. ...show more

Alfonzo "Lonnie" Johnson (February 8, 1894 - June 6, 1970) was a pioneering blues and jazz singer/guitarist born in New Orleans, Louisiana. There is some dispute over the year of his birth, but 1894 is what appears on his passport. He was a pioneer of jazz guitar as the first to play single-string guitar solos. [citation needed] Raised in a family of musicians, Johnson studied violin and guitar as a child, but concentrated on the latter throughout his professional career.

A 1917 tour to England with a revue may have saved his life, for he returned to New Orleans in 1919 to find that most of his family had died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. In the early 1920s, Johnson worked with the orchestras of Charlie Creath and Fate Marable on riverboats, but he made St. Louis his home in 1925. There he entered and won an Okeh Records blues contest that resulted in his making a series of memorable recordings for the label between 1925 and 1932, including guitar duets with Eddie Lang and vocal duets with Victoria Spivey.

In the 1920s, Johnson also made guest appearances on records by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five, the Duke Ellington orchestra, and The Chocolate Dandies, playing 12-string guitar solos in an extraordinary, pioneering single-string style that greatly influenced such future jazz guitarists as Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, and gave the instrument new meaning as a jazz voice. Lonnie Johnson's career was a rollercoaster ride that sometimes took him away from music. In between great musical accomplishments, he found it necessary to take menial jobs that ranged from working in a steel foundry to mopping floors as a janitor. He was working at Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Hotel in 1959 when WHAT-FM disc jockey Chris Albertson happened upon him. ...show less