Walter Johnson, Jr.'s musical career spans more than 30 years, and is still in progress. He's spent most of the time assisting H.B. Barnum on a wealth of projects. They did a series of jingles for Annie Green Springs and T.J. Swan Wine, wrote "Your Love" for Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, and produced the Nights album on ABC Records. Barnum and Johnson composed theme songs and underscored producer Alan Blye's Summer Replacement Shows for Lola Falana, Billy Davis and Marilyn McCoo, Ben Vereen, Diahann Carroll, Redd Foxx, and Richard Pryor. Foxx's program advanced to the fall season but got axed after eight weeks. Pryor's show got held over, too, but the comedian quit over creative differences.
Born April 29, 1949 in Cleveland, OH, Johnson is one of seven siblings (six brothers, one sister). One brother, David is a Psychiatrist. Three siblings have passed away: Ronald died from internal injuries suffered from amateur boxing, Arthur (the oldest), and JoAnn, the only sister. He grew up in the Outwaithe Projects, near Charles Hatcher (Edwin Starr). Johnson credits Starr's mom with teaching him and his cronies harmony. According to Johnson, the late Mrs. Hatcher groomed her son to be an entertainer. Often, Johnson had to wait until the future Edwin Starr finished his daily rehearsal under Mom's watch before he could participate. Johnson started the Donations while attending East Technical High School. Members included Johnson, Dewayne Gardner, Eddie Brown, and Sherman Satchell, cousin of the late Clarence Satchell (Ohio Players). They cut two singles for Dee-O's Records, "I'm Going to Treat You Good, " and as World War III, "The Bomb." When both bombed, Johnson and Satchell concentrated on songwriting, composing "Hey Lady" for the Elements, and many unreleased sides for Saru Records, the label where the O'Jays recorded and produced a variety of artists before signing with Philadelphia International Records. Eddie Levert (O'Jays) recommended them to Kenny Gamble. At the time, the O'Jays were in disarray. Bobby Massey had left the group, and Walter Williams nearly took a job with Ford Motors. They sought a replacement -- they had always been a four- or five-man group and didn't want to continue as a trio. Their first choice, Tracy Bell, was William Powell's cousin; he coached their steps and traveled with them doing valet duties, but he irked Gamble and Leon Huff and they nixed him. Next came Bobby Dukes, who played keyboards and sang. Levert, Williams, and Powell argued vehemently for Dukes but Gamble turned a deaf ear to the drama. Finally, original member Bill Isles' flew in from California to audition but was rejected too. So despite strong objections, the O'Jays recorded the Back Stabbers album as a trio. An album they disliked because Gamble & Huff changed their sound and the way they recorded. Gamble & Huff cut them like fellow songwriter Gene McFadden, and John Whitehead sung the demo records, McFadden and Whitehead alternated leads, and Gamble & Huff believed the style would work even better with Levert and Williams doing the alternating. They were right. Johnson and Satchell spent nearly three months at Philadelphia International cutting demos. According to Johnson, "Bunny Sigler tried to sabotage our projects, and we were uncomfortable around him." They never signed a contract because Gamble & Huff wanted to pay them a salary of $125 a week for two years with no royalties. Satchell wanted to sign, but Johnson balked at the terms. The dispute destroyed their partnership, and they severed their ties with the label.
In 1972, Johnson moved to California to work with H.B. Barnum and stayed 20 years. He sponsored Cleveland native Cynthia Woodard's gig with Tom Jones' backing group, the Blossoms, where she remained for almost two decades. Johnson paid for her flight to California to audition for the job, if she failed he would have had to pay her flight home. She'd previously recorded with a female trio, BaRoz and had cut some duets with Bobby Dukes. Barnum and Johnson did a whole LP on Dukes that remains vaulted. Mickey Grant, Barnum, and Johnson also wrote the music for the play Alice, a black Alice in Wonderland that starred Debbie Allen, Paula Kelly, and Alice Ghostly. The two did the soundtrack for the movie Black Girl Revenge originally called "Emma Mae." Little Star recording artist Keisha Brown sang the theme song "Long to Be Back Home." They scored the first Penitentiary movie, and had nearly completed Penitentiary II, but quit over the money. They scored a hit by producing "Rappin Duke," a novelty that almost went gold. And they've made many albums including those of John Rowles', David Winters', and the Pump Girls', while readying a gospel CD for Life Choir. Johnson stays busy assisting Barnum, who arranges and conducts Aretha Franklin's concerts, something they have also done for Diana Ross, Johnny Mathis, B.B. King, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, and others. His most memorable assignment was working at Nelson Mandela's birthday party at Wimbledon Stadium. HBO broadcast the event worldwide. Johnson also performs with Barnum, Ty Terrell, and Dee Clark as the Robins on doo wop shows.