Betty Johnson was born on March 16th, 1929 in Guilford County, NC in a rural setting with no doctor and only her 11 month old brother, Kenneth in attendance. She became a singer at a very early age and as soon as she was walking, joined her family “the Johnson Family Singers” and began recording with her family as the lead singer. Her father played the guitar and sang bass; her mother, alto; Kenneth, baritone; Betty, lead and twin brothers Bob and Jim doubled the voices with harmonies.
They signed a contract with Columbia Records in the 1930’s and began singing on radio at WBT in Charlotte, NC, a thousand-watt station operated by CBS. Their programs resulted in public appearances all over the South: churches, school auditoriums, and family reunions. She remembers her father making a sign that he passed out at these events reading ”anyone who falls asleep during our concert, I will give a dollar bill”. To her recollection, no one ever did but the sign got a lot of laughs.
The children were up early for the morning show, following the six o’clock Carter Family Show. Afterwards, they were taken to Paw Creek School, picked up at the end of the school day and driven to the radio station while eating a ham biscuit and a glass of milk for the 5:35 program. Then back home to do chores and homework and early to bed. The next day was a repeat of the day before.
The routine changed during the WWII. They were put into charted planes and flown around the country to sing for the troops at the army bases and after the war went to veterans hospitals to sing for the wounded. This was very hard for Betty emotionally and she asked her dad if she could leave the family and pursue her own career. He agreed and off she went to New York City.
She was so homesick and missed her family so much, but calls home encouraged her to stick it out and learn new material, and she did and she auditioned and won a talent scout program that gave her a week’s work singing on the Arthur Godfrey show. Her performance of ”Please Mr. President, Don’t Put a Tax On Love” launched her career and gave her not only guest spots on radio and television, but also a paying job at the Copacabana Nightclub as the production singer.
After high school, she attended Queens College where, her sophomore year, she met and married Dick Redding, a popular coach at Davidson College and a former Lt. Commander Navy flyer in the Pacific. She left the City to give birth to her son, Dick Redding. The marriage did not go well however and she returned to singing with her family and other venues opened.
She recorded with Columbia Records in Nashville and stayed with June Carter Cash and had friends from the grand ole opry who encouraged her to keep singing. However, Betty felt she could not sing country well and went again to NYC to pursue her career singing popular standards. There she met and signed with Csida’Grean Management (Joseph Csida & Randolph Grean) and they sent her to Chicago to work with Eddy Arnold, whom she was comfortable with since her family had worked with him.
In Chicago she co-starred with Eddy Arnold in the first tv series. The back-up singers were the Jordanaries who later became famous for singing backup for Elvis Presley.
She was also asked to join Don Mc’Neils breakfast club radio program on ABC’s 700 stations. Betty was right at home doing this show and had a regular weekly check. This was heaven for her.
She also had hit records from her work with Bally Records and was invited back to NYC to do the Ed Sullivan show. In the audience was Jack Paar, who asked her to join his new nightly show. Her boss reluctantly let her go East. She was singing on the Tonight Show for 4 years.
At that time, she asked her then husband Charles Grean for a divorce. He agreed and they parted but kept working together. She had many personal appearances around the country; the most enjoyable being the hotel circuit. It would be at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles that her life would change.
She met Arthur Gray Jr., a New Yorker, and fell helplessly in love. They were married in 1964. They had two children, Lydia in ’66 and two years later Elisabeth. They joined their brother Dick who became their godfather and they have remained close. Betty stopped her singing career to enjoy raising her daughters and having a home and garden. She did not perform publicly for 32 years.
After the girls graduated from college, she began singing with them and started a family recording and production company “Bliss Tavern Music”. She is delighted that people all over the world enjoy their music and has recently traveled to Spain for a performance and recording project with her talented daughters and granddaughter Betty Gray. This resulted in her most recent CD “Four Shades of Gray. She then went on a family trip to China and is scheduled to head back to Spain for other appearances. She does not know what the future will bring, but looks forward to every day.