Lyricist, lawyer, activist, diplomat and educator James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida on June 17, 1871. Educated at Atlanta University where he received his Bachelor of Arts and Masters degrees, Johnson also passed the Florida bar (after his self-education).
In the early 1900s, Johnson moved to New York began writing songs, collaborating with his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson. In a relatively short period of time, Johnson produced such hits as Under the Bamboo Tree, Life Every Voice and Sing, Since You Went Away, The Maiden With the Dreamy Eyes, Nobodys Lookin but the Owl and the Moon, Tell Me, Dusky Maiden, My Castle on the Nile, Congo Love Song, The Young Warrior, The Awakening, Two Eyes, Morning Moon and Night and The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground.
Johnson also translated the Enrique Grandos opera Goyescas, which was produced by New Yorks Metropolitan Opera in 1915.
However, songwriting was a minor step in the extensive resume and humanitarian life of James W. Johnson. Throughout his life he worked as a principal at the Stanton School, was the founder and editor of the first African American daily in the United States, the Daily American, he was appointed to the US consul for Puerto Cabello, Venezeula and later to Corinto, Nicaragua, worked as the assistant editor of NY Age, was a visiting professor of creative literature at Nashvilles Fisk University, was a trustee at Atlanta University, served as a director for the American Fund for Public Service and for 14 years, was the National Secretary of the NAACP.
Johnson also wrote several books on African American life in the United States: Negro Americans, What Now?, Black Manhattan, Gods Trombones, St. Peter Relates an Incident, The Book of American Negro Poetry and an autobiography Along This Way.
James W. Johnson died in Wiscasset, Maine on June 26, 1938.