In an era when African American composers were rare, Francis “Frank” Johnson was famous as a bandleader, composer and musician. He was a virtuoso on both violin and Bugle. Early in his career, his band performed for balls, parades and dancing schools in Philadelphia. Johnson was a leading member of a group of composers there and he gained recognition as a “founding father” of the American musical style.
Johnson was the first African American conductor to perform public concerts and the first African American to have his works published as sheet music. His band toured in Europe, the first musical American ensemble to do so, and performed for England’s Queen Victoria. In 1843, Johnson participated in the first racially integrated concert in the United States.