Francis Johnson Exhibit


Johnson's Instruments and Music

Little is known about Johnson's musical education. Though he was known to have been an accomplished performer on the violin and the Kent bugle, he owned many instruments and presumably was proficient at playing all of those used in his band. He would have performed on the violin with his String Band for dances in small halls, and the bugle would have been the lead instrument in his militia bands. His bands were initially of modest size - four to six players - but grew steadily, and by the 1930s, they included as many as twenty-five musicians.

Baptismal Record "The Death of Willis." Philadelphia: Fiot, Meignan & Co., [1837?].

Richard Willis emigrated from Scotland in 1816 and by 1818 had become director of the band at West Point, the only military organization in the country that retained a full-time band. Willis made occasional visits to Philadelphia for recruitment, and Johnson's dedication suggests that it was through contact with Willis that he became acquainted with the Kent bugle.
Directory Listing Portrait of Isaac Mickle (1822-1855). Reproduced from daguerreotype, 1840. As a source of extra income, Johnson gave music lessons in his home, and one of his prospective students was Isaac Mickle, a Camden law student. Mickle is best known for the diary he kept between the ages of 14 and 22. On 26 June 1841, at the age of 18, he wrote an account of a steamboat ride he took from the Dock Street Wharf to Gray's Ferry on the Delaware River. Johnson's ten-member band entertained the passengers, and Mickle struck up a conversation with Johnson during the intervals. Two weeks later, on 12 July 1841, Mickle made a visit to Johnson's studio to inquire about violin lessons. The diary entry offers a detailed description of the contents of the studio:
"I was now introduced in to Frank's sanctum, a pleasant room on the second floor filled with articles of his profession. Immediately opposite to the door, and suspended in a gorgeous frame, was my visitee's portrait, representing him in uniform, with a bugle in his hand. Over the mantel was another likeness of Boyer, the President of Hayti, in whom all negroes so much glory. The wall was covered with pictures and instruments of all kinds, and one side of the room was fixed with shelves whereon were thousands of musical compositions, constituting a valuable library. Bass drums, bass viols, bugles and trombones lay in admirable confusion on the floor; and in one corner was an armed composing chair, with pen and inkhorn ready, and some gallopades and waltzes half finished."

"After I had taken a good look at all around me, Frank came in, yawning most gracefully after his afternoon nap, and dressed in fashionable dishabille in which he sported with as much ease as ever beau Brummel [1778-1840, an arbiter of fashion] himself could have done. Bowing very politely, he sank, rather than sat, into a chair; and our business began." (from A Gentleman of Much Promise: The Diary of Isaac Mickle, 1837-1845. Philadelphia, 1977)

There is no further mention of Johnson in the diary, so he presumably did not pursue violin study with him.
Portrait Kent Bugle. Unknown maker, 1830s. Silver and nickel. Carl Busch Papers and Music Instrument Collection, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Johnson was known for his virtuosity as a performer on the Kent bugle. It was a bugle with keys, much like the modern saxophone, instead of valves, like a trumpet or cornet. The first patent on a keyed bugle was registered in London in 1810, and the instrument was introduced in the United States the following year. This instrument, dating from Johnson's lifetime, is similar to the bugle that Johnson would have played.

Cotillion Cotillion Cotillion "Victoria gallop" (1839) for band (mistakenly attributed to Aaron J.R. Connor), as found in a manuscript compiled between 1846 and 1849 by Benjamin H. Grierson (1826-1911) of Youngstown, Ohio. Published in Lavern J. Wagner, ed., Band Music from the Benjamin H. Grierson Collection (Madison, Wis., 1998).

Although Johnson composed his music for performance by his various bands, the original band music has not survived. Since the members of Johnson's band were the only musicians who would have needed the sheet music - in fact, Johnson would have wanted to keep his popular arrangements out of the hands of competing bands - Johnson's band music was probably disseminated in unique manuscript copies that were lost after the band dissolved.
This edition of a mid-nineteenth-century manuscript copy offers a rare surviving example of the likely original scoring of one of Johnson's tunes. Aaron J.R. Connor, a member of Johnson's band, was a talented arranger and composer, and he probably was responsible for scoring this version of Johnson's gallop.
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