From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Johnson, Marianna

(born: 1897  -  died: 1998) Marianna Johnson, a contralto singer and pianist who was born in Henderson, KY, was the daughter of Mary E. Carr and Edward W. Johnson [source: U.S. Social Security and Applications and Claims Index in]. She was the mother of Pierre W. "Red" Jackson.

Marianna Johnson recorded with Fletcher Henderson in the early 1920s [source: Ynow, Scott. "Fletcher Henderson: profiles in jazz," The Syncopated Times, 08/22/2018 (online)]. In 1921, she recorded The Rosary / Sorter Miss You on the Black Swan Record label. She was accompanied by the Black Swan Orchestra and directed by Wm. G. Still [source: Black Recording Artists, 1877-1926 compiled by C. M. Gibbs, p.85; and the ad "Recent recordings of Black Swan Records: all made by Colored people," The Crisis, v.23, no.1, November 1921, p.44].

According to author Ted Vincent, Mariana Johnson was a Garveyite, as was her friend Revella Hughes. The two women were quickly lost to the Pace Phonographic Corp. due to the disagreement between Pace and Marcus Garvey [source: Keep Cool: the Black activists who built the age of jazz by Ted Vincent, p.104]. The Pace Phonographic Corp. was established by Harry Pace in 1921. Black Swan Records was the company division that was responsible for releasing Pace records. Fletcher Henderson was hired as the recording director and William Grant Still was hired as the arranger and music director. When technology made it possible for consumers to hear music on the radio, and with larger record companies realizing the profit to be made from race records, Black Swan Phonographs did not have the financial capital to compete. The company was bankrupt by 1923. Paramount took over the Black Swan catalogue in 1924.  [Source: Aaron Myers, "Black Swan Records" in Africana: the encyclopedia of the African and African American experience].

Harry Pace (1884-1943) and Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) had different views about the uplift of the Negro race. Pace thought that Garvey was causing friction between the races, especially after Garvey met with the Ku Klux Klan in Atlanta, GA in 1922 to ascertain his agreement with the Klan on the matter of miscegenation. Pace vehemently disliked all that Garvey stood for and in January of 1923, he and 8 others took the lead in writing a letter of complaint to the U.S. Attorney General to express their feelings toward the "primitive and ignorant" Negroes from the West Indies and America who were associated with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) led by the "unscrupulous demagogue" Marcus Garvey. [Sources: Letter sent to the Attorney General Harry Daugherty, by Harry Pace and eight other people from New York City (15th January, 1923). Online, item7, at Marcus Garvey, a Spartacus Educational web page. Read more about Harry Herbert Pace (1884-1943) and Black Swan Phonograph Company at]

Marianna Johnson may have become a follower of the Garvey Movement before she left West Virginia. When the UNIA was established in 1918, there was a presence in West Virginia; the organization had drawn members from the ranks of African American coal miners. Marianna Johnson is listed in the 1920 U.S. Census as living with her family in Huntington, WV. Her father, Edward W. Johnson, worked for the C & O Railroad [Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad]. Huntington, WV had been selected by Collis Potter Huntington (founder of Huntington, WV) in the 1800s for the western terminus of the C & O Railroad, which would become a major coal hauling railroad company. [Read more about Huntington, WV and the C & O Railroad at The West Virginia Encyclopedia [online].]

Marianna Johnson would leave Huntington, WV, at some point around 1920. Both she and Revella Hughes were listed twice in the 1920 U.S. Census, once in  Huntington, WV, which was Revella Hughes' hometown, and they were listed again in New York City, NY, where they were students lodging at 227 W. 136th Street. The New York census sheet was dated January 3rd and 5th of 1920. The two young women were lodgers at the home of Mattie Fletcher and Adam Clayton Powell Sr. On December 2, 1920, Marianna Johnson and Revella Hughes were to perform at the benefit recital put on by the New York local of the National Association of Negro Musicians (NANM) [source: "Benefit concert," New York Age, 11/27/1920, p.5]. Marianna Johnson was billed as a pianist, and Revella Hughes a soprano. The program was to be held at 8:00 p.m. in the basement of St. Phillip's Church at 216 W. 134th Street. [Read more about Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. at]

In 1921, Revella Hughes and Marianna Johnson were among a small group from New York who performed on March 6th at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. [source: "Campaign launched," Washington Bee, 03/05/1921, p.1; and "Washington Conservatory Campaign Recital," Washington Bee, 03/12/1921, p.2]. The program was a fundraiser for a national school of music for colored Americans at the Washington Conservatory of Music, and Mrs. Harriet Gibbs Marshall was president. [Read more about Revella Hughes within the "Inventory of the Revella E. Hughes Papers, Manuscript Collection (Ms91), 1895-1984 (online). The collection is located in the Special Collections Department at Marshall University in Huntington, WV.]

Marianna Johnson continued performing throughout 1921, and by 1923, she had returned to Huntington, WV [source: West Virginia Marriage Index,]. She is also listed in the 1930 U.S. Census; she had remarried and was living in Huntington with her husband, son Pierre Jackson, her parents, and other family members.

Marianna Johnson was 100 years old when she died in Henderson, KY on September 1, 1998 [source: U.S. Social Security Death Index,].

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Henderson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

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Item Relations

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“Johnson, Marianna,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed June 12, 2024,

Last modified: 2019-10-24 02:32:15