Alfred H. Johnson was the first person to give me pipe organ lessons, about 50 years ago. He was the organist at the local Presbyterian church and the head of the choral department at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, Pa.
My family came to Dr. Johnson's town in Pennsylvania when I was 9, moving from a town in Virginia that had no school for African American kids. When the Baptist church, where I played piano, purchased an electric organ, I received 10 lessons from Dr. Johnson, to be paid for by the organ store.
I'd go to my lesson on Saturday mornings after cleaning floors and doing odd jobs. When my 10 lessons were over, Dr. Johnson let me continue at a reduced fee and practice at night on the Presbyterian church's organ.
When I applied to colleges, Dr. Johnson helped me prepare. The summer I received my music degree, he asked me to serve as organist while he was on vacation. It was the '50s, and I'm sure it took some strength of conviction for him to present my name. That summer, I worked with the Presbyterian and Episcopal congregations on a combined radio service.
I felt warmly welcomed when the Johnsons invited me to have lunch at their home. At that time, most people of color in the area entered such homes only through the back door as domestics.
When he died, Dr. Johnson left me much of his organ music library, which I continue to use today.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers