Composers Datebook®

Francis Johnson

Composers Datebook - June 16, 2024


Today we celebrate Francis Johnson, born in Martinque in the West Indies on today’s date in 1792. He emigrated to Philadelphia in 1809 at 17. As a teen, Johnson was a master of the violin and the keyed bugle, an early precursor of the trumpet. By his 20s, he was a popular bandleader around Philadelphia.

Johnson experimented with various combinations of strings, winds and brass, and composed over 200 arrangements and original works in the popular forms of the day. In 1817, he became the first Black composer in America to have his music published.

Johnson’s band toured here and abroad, and, in 1837, played before Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace. The young queen was so impressed that she gave Johnson a silver bugle as a memento.

Besides entertaining white audiences abroad, Johnson performed at African American churches in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. In 1841 he organized a performance of Haydn’s Creation at the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Francis Johnson died in 1844 in Philadelphia at 52. During his funeral march, hundreds of mourners, including his brass band, followed his casket, on which his silver bugle was placed.

Music Played in Today's Program

Francis B. Johnson (1792-1844): The Philadelphia Gray’s Quickstep; Symphony Orchestra of America; Matthew Phillips, conductor; Albany TROY-103

On This Day


  • 1931 - American composer Lucia Dlugoszewski, in Detroit


  • 1970 - Estonian composer Heino Eller, 83, in Tallinn

  • 1986 - French composer and organist Maurice Duruflé, 84, in Paris


  • 1929 - Shostakovich: opera The Nose, in Leningrad at the Malïly Opera Theater

  • 1937 - Blitzstein: opera-review, The Cradle Will Rock, in New York City, composer at piano

  • 1950 - Persichetti: Divertimento for Band, by the Goldman Band, with the composer conducting

  • 1961 - Schoenberg: Jacob’s Ladder, in Vienna, posthumously at 35th Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music

  • 1973 - Britten: opera Death in Venice, in Snape at The Maltings


  • 1708 - While in Italy, Handel completes the score to his Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, presumably for the wedding of the Duke of Alvito to Donna Beatrice Sanseverino on July 19 that year

  • 1710 - Handel is appointed Kapellemeister to Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover (the future King George I), at a salary of 1000 thaler under condition that Handel receive an immediate 12-month leave of absence to London

  • 1891 - Czech composer Antonín Dvořák receives an honorary degree from Cambridge University in England

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®