3/31/20 O&A NYC IN MEMORIUM: Dancer, Choreographer Louis Johnson Died at 90

By Walter Rutledge

Dancer, choreographer and director Louis Johnson passed away he was 90 years old. Born March 19, 1930 in Statesville, North Carolina Johnson’s parents moved to Washington D.C. and he became a standout in the D.C. school system for his artistic and gymnastic abilities. While in high school Johnson enrolled and trained at the Jones Haywood School of Dance, where he blossomed under the tutelage of Doris Jones and Clair Haywood.

Johnson moved to New York City and continued his dance training at the famed New York City School of American Ballet, where he was mentored by Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine. Johnson performed on Broadway in Four Saint in Three Acts, House of Flowers (George Balanchine choreographer) Damn Yankees (Bob Fosse) and Hallelujah Baby. The success of one of his early choreographic works Lament for the New York City Ballet Club led to offers to choreograph the Broadway production of Langston Hughes’ Black Nativity. This lead to additional theatrical productions including Lost In The Stars, Treemonisha and Purlie, which garnered Johnson a Tony Award nomination.

Johnson choregraphed La Giaconda (starring Martina La Rowe) and Aida (starring Leontyne Price) for the New York Metropolitan Opera. Johnson also choreographed two motion pictures the 1970 Cotton Come To Harlem and The Wiz starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. Johnson never lost his love for concert dance choreographing for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Joffrey Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Philadanco and the Nanette Bearden Contemporary Dance Theater. In 1980 Johnson started the dance department at the Henry Street Settlement (New York City), where he remained until 2003. He also taught the first Black theater course at Yale University and stated dance department at Howard University (D.C.). His directorial credits include Porgy and Bess, Miss Truth and Jazzbo Brown.

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  1. Johnson choreographed
    Deep Ellum Blues for
    Dallas Black Dance Theatre
    In 1986 to original music composed by
    David Fathead Newman and Roger

    • Louis Johnson choreographed “Echoes of Spain” for Ballet Hispanico of NY. A signature piece for the company, fusing jazz dance with Flamenco. We loved him very much. I would later work with him again in the film version of The Wiz.

  2. Such sad news. Rest, dear Louis.
    I add here that Louis Johnson was the Choreographer for a production of “The Emperor Jones,” with James Earl Jones (1967). The production, for which I served Louis as assistant, and dancer, was performed in Europe using dancers in the twin-touring production of Donald McKayle’s “The Black New World.”

  3. Sad to hear what was the cause of his death

  4. Louis Johnson re-staged his renowned ballet, Lament on Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. What a wonderful man! He will be sorely missed.

  5. A true talent and genius –this son of Washington, DC, graced the dance world and soared.
    May he continue to fly with real wings now.


    JH Alumni Committee

  6. We will certainly miss our dear Louis Johnson –a gift and genius to the dance world that cannot be replicated. Do what you do best Mr. Johnson — FLY!!

    Please NOTE: Correction on the name of dance school. Jones Haywood School of Ballet

    From the JH Alumni Committee

  7. Louis Johnson was a mentor to many and a champion for dancers. Productions gave him the opportunity to provide jobs for performers and advocate for equal treatment for everyone. Adding to his list of talents: writer, classical musician and designer of his stylish ensembles. He was my coach and I was his “assistant.”

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