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Jerriese ("JJ") Daniel Johnson (May 8, 1954, Gainesville, Georgia - March 10, 1995, New York, New York) was a Gospel Singer, Musical Director, Actor, Composer. He had a B.A. in Drama and Music, Berry College, Rome, Georgia (1972-76) and studied at California Institute of Performing Arts and Harlem School of Ballet. (Photo: courtesy K. Dean Hubbard)

He was Founder and Director of East Village Gospel Choir, New York.

JJ, as he was known to one and all, started singing in church when he was three years old. He played piano at age seven and performed with his own band when he was fifteen.

After graduating in drama and music from Berry College in Rome, Georgia, he attended the California Institute of Performing Arts and studied ballet at the Harlem School of Ballet. He spent most of his adult life in New York City.

The first performance of the East Village Gospel Choir was November 23, 1986 in New York at the Middle Collegiate Church, where Jerriese served as Elder and Deacon. JJ continued as the choir's director until his death from complications related to AIDS on March 10, 1995. The night before his death, he held choir rehearsal in his apartment. The choir's last song with JJ was "Amazing Grace."

The choir, now known as the Jerriese Johnson East Village Gospel Choir, is directed by Freeman Palmer at Middle Collegiate Church.

JJ appeared in several supporting roles in the 1980 Off-Broadway revival of Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, adapted by Ntozake Shange, at the Newman Theater. The cast included Morgan Freeman and Anna Deavere Smith. He also played the lead role in Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones at the Perry Street Theater. His television appearances included several commercials and soap operas and numerous made-for-television movies.

He created a solo cabaret act called "Gettin' Down with Rhythm and Blues" which he performed at Astor's in New York from July through November 1993.

It seemed that Jerriese knew nearly everybody in the East Village. To walk down the street with him was an experience. Every few steps, people greeted and waved, and Jerriese would constantly walk in and out of shops as though he was the mayor of the East Village. He brought that same kind of charisma, deep spiritual love and compassion for people, and contagious energy with him into the church.

JJ's compassionate energy carried over into activism for peace and human rights as well. Like his beloved fellow Georgian, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., JJ fought with his life to overcome hatred, intolerance and exclusion, using the weapons of love, acceptance and inclusion – as well as music. —Dean Hubbard, founding member, Jerriese Johnson East Village Gospel Choir

Source: http://www.artistswithaids.org/artforms/music/catalogue/johnsonj.html

Further Readings:

Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality by Patrick Moore
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: Beacon Press (January 14, 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 080707957X
ISBN-13: 978-0807079577
Amazon: Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality

The radical sexuality of gay American men in the 1970s is often seen as a shameful period of excess that led to the AIDS crisis. Beyond Shame claims that when the gay community divorced itself from this allegedly tainted legacy, the tragic result was an intergenerational disconnect because the original participants were unable to pass on a sense of pride and identity to younger generations. Indeed, one reason for the current rise in HIV, Moore argues, is precisely due to this destructive occurrence, which increased the willingness of younger gay men to engage in unsafe sex.

Lifting the'veil of AIDS,' Moore recasts the gay male sexual culture of the 1970s as both groundbreaking and creative-provocatively comparing extreme sex to art. He presents a powerful yet nuanced snapshot of a maligned, forgotten era. Moore rescues gay America's past, present, and future from a disturbing spiral of destruction and AIDS-related shame, illustrating why it's critical for the gay community to reclaim the decade.

More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics

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