Bob “B.J.” Johnson (photo-right) was nominated for the ACE Award by Elizabeth Shepley. The award was presented to Bob by Bruce Becker (photo-left), who authored the following tribute.
Ever since his student singing days at Alexandria High School with legendary Minnesota choral director Murrae Freng, and his years performing with the Concordia College Choir under the direction of Paul J. Christiansen, choral music has defined and enriched Bob “B.J.” Johnson’s life and career. For nearly four decades, Bob amassed an impressive list of contributions to not only St. Olaf’s choral community, but also within the ACDA state and national organizations to enrich the lives of those who create and enjoy the choral art.
Bob was on the staff of the University of Michigan’s music society when, in 1978 at the suggestion of Kenneth Jennings, the St. Olaf Music Department appointed him Manager of Music Organizations. In May of 2015, B.J. retired from his 37 years as the full-time manager of St. Olaf’s Office of Music Organizations.
Of B.J.’s career, Dr. Dan Dressen, Associate Provost and former Associate Dean for the Fine Arts and Music Department Chair at St. Olaf College, says:
As manager of the St. Olaf College Music Organizations, Bob Johnson has been a model for how entrepreneurial management of college music ensembles can successfully serve both the aspirations of the music program and the larger interests of the college. I can imagine no one else who could have more appropriately partnered with faculty and student musicians to broaden the opportunities of bringing music from St. Olaf to the world. He has done so as a true servant spirit, committed without exception to the purpose of supporting the music ensembles. His tireless and creative endeavors on behalf of the St. Olaf music program have left an indelible mark that, no doubt, will continue to shape the direction this program will pursue for years to come.
Once described as a cross between the great New York impresario Sol Hurok and the renowned circus master P.T. Barnum, B.J. has performed dual roles as concert producer and event promoter over the years. Throughout his time at St. Olaf, he has encouraged the conductors of the St. Olaf Choir to think big, and his entrepreneurial sense has brought about many impressive and far-reaching innovations.
B.J. got St. Olaf into the recording business by reestablishing the St. Olaf Records label, and has led the choir on tours world-wide, including the 2005 tour that combined the St. Olaf Band, the St. Olaf Choir, and the St. Olaf Orchestra on one of his four tours to Norway. B.J.’s ability to build relationships has ensured that the St. Olaf Christmas Festival was filmed every four years to air on Public Television, for a total of 11 productions, including two PBS holiday specials filmed on location in Norway’s historic Nidaros Cathedral. In 2007 and 2011, Johnson also led the charge in simulcasting the St. Olaf Christmas Festival in several hundred movie theaters around the nation.
A leader in forging alliances with other colleagues and supporters of choral music, Johnson served on the steering committee that brought the 2002 World Symposium on Choral Music to Minneapolis. In 1990 he was instrumental in founding the College Music Tour Managers Association. In 1992, he was enlisted to provide his keen leadership to develop “The Concert of the Century,” bringing together for the first time the choirs of Augsburg, Concordia, Gustavus, Luther, and St. Olaf colleges to celebrate the 125th birth anniversary of F. Melius Christiansen. The proceeds of that 1996 event established the F. Melius Christiansen Endowment Fund.
Longtime colleague and friend Anton Armstrong says:
Bob Johnson is a true servant-spirit who, during his long career, has worked behind the scenes — not only at St. Olaf but within the ACDA state and national organization — to be a strong advocate for the choral community. He has always striven in his life and work to see ways in which the choral art could enrich the lives of all who perform, as well as those who experience this beautiful gift of music.