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.