Charles L. Johnson

Charles L. Johnson

Musical Artist
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Charles L. Johnson

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Charles Leslie Johnson (December 3, 1876 - December 28, 1950) was an American composer of ragtime and popular music. He was born in Kansas City, Kansas, died in Kansas City, Missouri, and lived his entire life in those two cities. He published over 300 songs in his life, nearly 40 of them ragtime compositions such as "Doc Brown’s Cakewalk", "Dill Pickles", "Apple Jack (Some Rag)", and "Snookums Rag". His best selling piece, a sentimental ballad called "Sweet and Low", sold over a million copies. Experts believe that had Johnson lived and worked in New York, he would be included alongside Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb as one of the greatest ragtime composers. He wrote more than the other three combined and exemplified a greater range of talent, composing waltzes, tangos, cakewalks, marches, novelty pieces, and other types of music popular at that time.


Charles Johnson was born in the Armourdale district of Kansas City, Kansas to James R. and Helen F. Johnson. Clearly a prodigy, he was playing a neighbor’s piano by age six and began studying classical piano, harmony, and music theory a few years later. Although he had classical training, he always preferred popular music of the day. His musical ability led him to proficiency on other instruments as well: guitar, violin, banjo, and mandolin. As a young man Johnson became involved in the music scene of Kansas City by participating in several local...
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