Betty Johnsons first career in music coincided with the music career of her family, the Johnson Family Singers. Starting in 1938 and throughout the 1940s, the young soprano sang hymns with her parents and three brothers. The family had a daily broadcast on the powerful WBT radio in Charlotte, North Carolina and appeared at churches, military bases, and all-night sings throughout the South. Singing in the vein of the Carter Family and Speer Family, the Johnsons garnered enough attention to appear on the Grand Ole Opry and record for RCA-Victor and Columbia records.
As the 1950s dawned, Betty charted a course that would take her away from the Johnson Family Singers and toward popular music stylings. In New York City, Johnson shared the top prize on Arthur Godfreys Talent Scouts and also found a regular Sunday evening radio job singing with the CBS orchestra as well as a Saturday morning spot on the Galen Drake Show.
Betty Johnsons career took a decided turn upward in 1954 when she joined the Csida-Grean management company which handled the careers of Eddy Arnold and Bobby Darin. Charles Grean of Csida-Grean would produce much of her music over the next few years.
The organization helped her find her first hit in November of 1954, I Want Eddie Fisher For Christmas. Betty then recorded for RCA and then Bell Records. But Johnson would have better luck at her next stop, Bally Records, in Chicago. Bally, a young label in 1956, was owned by the famous pinball and slot machine, and would release the biggest hit of Johnsons career, I Dreamed. At the time, Johnson also appeared regularly on Don McNeils Breakfast Club and Eddy Arnold Time.
Johnson posted other hits in 1956 -- Ill Wait and Clay Idol -- and she frequently appeared on programs hosted by Bob Newhart, Jack Benny and Perry Como. Television viewers could also often catch her on The Ed Sullivan Show and Jack Paars Tonight Show where she was featured as the regular girl singer.
Johnson kept a breathless pace. In addition to her recordings and television, she was the spokeswoman for Borden dairy products and starred in summer stock performances of Brigadoon, The King And I and South Pacific. She met live dates at the Copacabana in New York, the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans, the Drake Hotel in Chicago, the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, the Sands in Las Vegas, the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and other clubs around the nation.
Betty scored two more hits in 1957, Little White Lies and 1492. In 1958, Betty Johnson joined Atlantic Records and hit the pop charts with The Little Blue Man. It camped on the charts for four months. Later in the year, she racked up two more hits -- Dream and Hoopa Hoola.
Betty Johnson continued to make regular appearances on television and the club circuit, and longed to more pop standards. I wanted to do more of the standards, and I would do standards in my personal appearances, explains Johnson. But recording-wise, your A&R people really were in charge. You could sneak a few [in]. In 1958, Johnson did just that. Atlantic released the LP Songs You Heard When You Fell In Love which included Red Sails In The Sunset, Dancing In The Dark and Always. In the late 50s, Johnson entered Gotham Studios in New York City to record a series of radio shows for the U.S. Marine Corps to be aired on Armed Forces Radio and U.S. commercial radio stations. The shows featured pop standards such as You Go To My Head and Just In Time.
Throughout the late 1950s and early 60s, Betty concentrated on personal appearances where she found steady employment. It was a personal appearance in 1962 that would bring the end of her second career and, in effect, pave the way for her third. Johnson met her future husband, Arthur Gray, after a nightclub show.
The two married in 1964 and settled into a life of familial normalcy, a new experience for Betty. Betty avoided public life and set about raising her and Arthurs two daughters.
By 1993, family raised, she returned, debuting at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City to approving reviews. An interview she gave to National Public Radios Fresh Air program opened a floodgate of requests for her music, and she has since continued to record music, perform, and act (she had small roles in the films Reversal Of Fortune and Good Fellas).
Betty Johnson works hard on her third career in music, a career thats defined by pop standards and cabaret performances. Betty draws from the Johnson Family Singers who groomed her voice and a 1950s solo tenure that proved her ability to sell whimsical pop records in the midst of the rock revolution. She presses on in the 1990s. I feel like Im about 23 years old. I feel very young because this is all so challenging for me and a little scary and very rewarding.
-- Adapted from DISCoveries Magazine