Piano icon Johnnie Johnson is to receive a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his military service.
The Chuck Berry collaborator, who died in 2005, was one of the first African-Americans to join the US Marine Corps in 1942. He trained at Camp Montford Point in North Carolina during the era in which the US army remained segregated.
Over 24,000 troops trained at Montford Point until its closure in 1949, when the army was desegregated. Since 2012, over 700 of those have been decorated.
Johnson was a member of Bobby Troup’s jazz orchestra during his time in the Marines. When his service ended he worked with Muddy Waters and Little Walter.
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In 1952 he invited Berry to join his Sir John Trio, leading to the signing of a Chess Records deal in 1955. They worked together closely until 1973, and Johnson continued to guest with Berry until his death. Classic track Johnny B Goode is said to be a tribute to the pianist.
Johnson’s widow Frances says she’s “beyond ecstatic” at her late husband’s award, adding: “11 years he’s been gone and I’m still extremely proud of him.”
The Congressional Gold Medal is one of the highest civilian awards in the US, granted to people who have “performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture.”