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About Betty Johnson

With a warm, unaffected vocal tone sometimes reminiscent of Doris Day, singer Betty Johnson got her start with the Johnson Family Singers, a gospel group lasting from the late '30s through the '40s. In the '50s, she had a string of solo hits beginning with 1954's "I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas," though 1956's "I Dreamed" proved to be her biggest chart success. After issuing two solo LPs with Atlantic, she temporarily retired from music in 1964 to focus on family. Johnson re-emerged as a performer in New York City clubs in the early '90s and released another series of albums, including 1996's In the Garden, a collection of hymns and folk songs; 2001's Chattanooga Swing; and 2017's Four Shades of Gray, which featured her daughters Lydia and Elisabeth Gray, both frequent collaborators during her return, as well as granddaughter Betty Gray.

Formed in 1938, the Johnson Family Singers enjoyed success down South due to the group being broadcast daily on WBT radio in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on the CBS network. The group made several recordings for the RCA Victor and Columbia labels and appeared at the famed Grand Old Opry before breaking up in the early '50s. Betty eventually relocated to New York City, where she appeared regularly on radio (on Sunday evenings singing with the CBS Orchestra, as well as on Saturday mornings on The Galen Drake Show).

In 1954, Johnson joined the Csida-Grean management company, which at the time handled such big names as Eddy Arnold and Bobby Darin. This led to her first hit in November of 1954, "I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas," though 1956's "I Dreamed" would become Johnson's biggest song. Further hit singles followed, including "Little White Lies," "1492," and "The Little Blue Man." She appeared on programs hosted by Bob Newhart, Jack Benny, and Perry Como, as well as such TV shows as The Ed Sullivan Show and Jack Paar's Tonight Show. She was also hired as a spokeswoman for Borden dairy products.

A recording contract with Atlantic followed shortly thereafter, resulting in a pair of full-length albums, 1958's self-titled debut and 1959's Songs You Heard When You Fell in Love, as Johnson shifted her focus to pop standards. Upon marrying in 1964, Johnson temporarily retired from music, shying away from the spotlight as she raised two daughters.

In 1993, Johnson returned to performing with an appearance at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. She continued to perform into the 2000s, with her act drawing from her early days as a member of the Johnson Family Singers as well as from her solo hits. She began issuing albums on a regular basis again with 1995's Family Affair, which featured her daughters Lydia and Elisabeth Gray. A year later, both women also joined her on a set of traditional hymns and folk songs called In the Garden. In 1997, Soft Lights & Sweet Music captured a live performance from November 4, 1995 at Café Pierre with Lydia, and Johnson followed it in 2001 with the big-band album Chattanooga Swing, which featured Elisabeth. Issued in 2006, Take Me Along collected 30 outtakes recorded between 1955 and 1959.

Still recording in the 2010s, she released Three Shades of Gray with her daughters in 2010. The follow-up Four Shades of Gray, from 2018, featured Lydia and Elisabeth as well as granddaughter Betty Gray. ~ Marcy Donelson & Greg Prato

Possum Walk, NC
Mar 16, 1929

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