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Johnson first played trumpet at age 15. He moved to Oklahoma City in 1936 and played with Charlie Christian and Henry Bridges before joining Nat Towles's band. He played briefly with Horace Henderson and Bob Dorsey in the early 1940s before returning to Towles's band in 1944 in Chicago. He also played with Count Basie, Cootie Williams, Lucky Millinder, and Bull Moose Jackson in the 1940s. His associations in the 1950s included Louis Jordan (1951), Lucky Thompson (1953), Sy Oliver, Buddy Johnson, Cozy Cole, Mercer Ellington, Little Esther (1956), and Panama Francis (for a tour of Montevideo, Uruguay in 1953).
In the 1960s Johnson played in the house band at the Apollo Theater in New York, and recorded with King Curtis in 1962. He toured the USSR with Earl Hines in 1966. From 1968 he played in the Duke Ellington Orchestra and also worked again with Hines and Oliver. He recorded with Buck Clayton in 1975.
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With Jack McDuff
With Houston Person