Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll learn about a bandleader who made the grade, from the high schools of Houston to the concert halls of Japan.
You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on Sunday at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.
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Conrad Johnson was born on Nov. 15, 1915, in Victoria, Texas. As a young saxophone player, Johnson moved to Houston to pursue a musical career. However, he turned down offers to tour with major jazz groups in the 1940s, choosing instead to work as a high school bandleader. In 1969, Johnson became director of the stage band at Houston’s predominantly African-American Kashmere High School. He quickly transformed the Kashmere band by blending traditional pieces with more modern funk, soul and R&B. Johnson’s innovative approach paid off when the group won 42 out of 46 major competitions and was voted “Best Stage Band in the Nation” in 1972. Johnson and his students went on to record eight albums and toured both Europe and Japan.
In 2006, several of the Kashmere Stage Band’s earlier recordings were reissued on the CD titled Texas Thunder Soul. In 2008, the group re-united to perform a tribute to Conrad Johnson, whom the students had affectionately nicknamed “Prof.” The 92-year old Johnson died just two days later.
Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll recall a Thanksgiving Day jam session that made Austin music fans very grateful.