CLARK JOHNSON ORCHESTRA
WHO WE ARE
I started playing music in the 6th grade, when our teacher announced that our school had hired a band teacher and that they would be forming a band. It sounded okay, and I thought it might be something fun to do. I initially started out on the baritone horn, which is something like a mini tuba, which was fine until I heard Herb Alpert play “A Taste of Honey”-- then I had to go for the trumpet! So my parents bought me a trumpet for $75. I am sure they thought that the trumpet would end up in the closet with the tennis racket, the fishing rod, and whatever else that I had begged them to buy. I don’t think any of us realized at that time that it would develop into a lifelong passion for music. I remember a half hour lesson going for $5.00, which was big money in those days! My father even accompanied me to one lesson and asked my teacher, if I was any good. I think he wanted to make sure his money was being well spent!
Well, I played trumpet in the school bands during elementary, high school, and college, and earned both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Music. During my high school and college years I played in many bands or “groups”, as we called them outside of school. In fact, I worked my way through school playing in these groups. I always wanted to play in musical situations beyond the borders of the classroom! This was real music to me that people liked.
After completing school, I found myself playing in top shelf professional bands, pit orchestras and recording studios. I was living the life that I had always wanted and have continued living that same dream of playing real music that people enjoy!
I’m a native Chicagoan, and live in the Edgewater neighborhood where I enjoy tennis, golf, cycling, going to Ravinia and the many other fine things that our great city has to offer.
My partner Johnnie Johnson and I have been into music for years. Johnnie was the exclusive drummer for the legendary Morris Ellis Orchestra “in fact, we met while working in the Ellis band. I continued working as a touring and studio musician.
Over the years Johnnie and I noticed that many so called “Jobbing Bands” were not really organized and lacked a sense of cohesion in a true musical sense. These Bands simply were musicians who were called together, often without rehearsing, to play at an event. This approach is unfulfilling for the musicians, vocalists, and especially the clients. The Clark/Johnson Orchestra came about with the retirement of Morris Ellis. It was during that time, Johnnie and I decided that that we could use our experiences in music while keeping the Ellis tradition going. Our new Event Band’s goal would be to combine a great organization while presenting an authentic high-energy musical performance. We would couple every performance with a sophisticated and professional presentation. Our goal is to deliver this each and every time we perform!
I was born and raised in Chicago and was the first person in my family to finish college. A college degree was a personal goal of mine, but faced with limited financial resources, drumming became my means to achieve that end. You would think that with my love for the drums I would have majored in music. Well, that was not the case, because my mother was a painter and interested in all the arts. Consequently, I was blessed because she exposed me to visual and performing arts while growing up. The arts have played an important part of my life. I am proud to say that I have been able to channel my passion by teaching visual arts to kids in the Chicago public schools , while also performing as a percussionist for the past 30 years.
My interest in music, and especially the drums, started while watching a television show of the 60’s called Shindig! At the age of 10, I talked my dad into buying me a set of drums. He did so with the stipulation that I must practice regularly and take lessons, or else! Well, over 40 years later and before he died, I told him that “buying me that first drum set meant he really never needed to worry about the or else part of the deal we made.” He said he was proud of me.
I studied and played percussion throughout my school years, in elementary (Arthur Dixon), High school (Chicago Vocational, CVS), and College (Grambling University marching band and Northern Illinois University jazz Band). This climaxed with an audition with the critically acclaimed Morris Ellis 17-piece Orchestra here in Chicago. Joining the orchestra was a dream come true. It afforded me the opportunity to play almost every venue throughout the Chicago area with some of the best musicians in the city, while touring weekends. This truly was a dream come true. My career in music has enabled me to raise a family, teach Art to school children and propel a dynamic orchestra from behind the drum set for the past three decades.
It was with the Morris Ellis Orchestra that I first met my partner trumpeter Rodney Clark. While traveling overseas throughout the Philippines islands, I had the pleasure of meeting my present wife Mila. I have a son, Johnnie Johnson Jr., who is an independent insurance adjuster, and a daughter, Kristen Johnson, who is a prominent makeup artist carrying on the family tradition in the arts. I still live in the Chicago area. My interests include sailing the waters of Lake Michigan, traveling and camping, jogging, motorcycling, biking, as well performing music throughout the Chicagoland area with the guys and gals from the Clark/Johnson Orchestra. I could not ask for anything more in life, I have been truly blessed.