By Curt Yeomans
Janet Johnson began writing song melodies and lyrics when she was 13, and growing up in Bearden, Ark. She grew up in a family of people who sang gospel songs for church, and she would write the melodies and lyrics for her own songs in a notebook, as they came to her.
Eventually, she said, she had compiled 30 full songs, but only occasionally performed them in public. That changed last month.
Johnson, now a 45-year-old music teacher at Pointe South Elementary School and choir leader at Macedonia AME Church in Rex, released her first CD, "Songs of Praise, Volume I," on Sept. 5. It's a compilation of 10 gospel songs she wrote.
"Over time, I started to think, maybe, I was meant to do more with these songs," she said. "God gave me these songs for a reason, I felt a heavy, heavy, heavy burden to share them with other people."
Johnson said she got her start in church-related singing, when she was a first-grade student in Arkansas. She came home from school one day, and sang a new song she had learned in school for her mother, Bobbie Coleman. The song was "I Saw Three Ships," and after singing it that one time, her mother urged her to sing it during a Christmas program at their church.
Johnson said she comes from a family of gospel singers. Both of her parents and grandparents, as well as a few aunts and uncles, sang in church choirs. "I grew up around it," she said. Some of her other influences in gospel music include Helen Baylor, Andre Crouch and Walter Hawkins.
Among the offerings on her CD, she said the songs "Drive My Life" and "Lord, I Hear You" are her favorites. "Drive My Life," she said, because she wants God to drive her life, and "Lord, I Hear You," because her husband and their three children sang with her on the track.
In addition to being a singer, Johnson is also an educator. She got her bachelors degree from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and a master's degree in music from the University of Texas-El Paso.
She has been teaching music in schools in the U.S., and overseas, for 20 years. For the last six years, she has been teaching at Pointe South Elementary School. Before that, she spent seven years teaching at a school in Ruston, La.
Before that, she taught for four years at a Department of Defense Dependents School in Yongsan, South Korea, while her husband was stationed there. She spent three years before that teaching music, part-time, in Spandahlem, Germany, while her husband was stationed in nearby Bitburg. Her husband, Lt. Col. Daniel Johnson, I, retired from the U.S. Army in 2006, after 23 years of service.
After school on Monday, Janet Johnson was working with five students on their singing to prepare them to compete for statewide elementary school chorus honors. An hour earlier, she was teaching speaking and singing to a lively class of kindergartners, and she had to keep their behavior under control while teaching them to sing "If You're Happy and You Know It."
She said teaching six classes a day, five days a week, requires a lot of energy, but she said her faith in God helps her keep kindergartners from losing interest in learning how to sing. She said she sees teaching as a ministry, because she is helping children learn values, such as sharing, not acting out in violence, and appreciating what a person has. The singer and music teacher also said she plans to continue doing both singing and teaching, for as long as she can.
"I believe he [God] gives me the energy for that," Johnson said. "I will continue to try and do both as long as He says I can ... I balance it by doing it, just going for it and doing it."
Johnson said her CD, which can be purchased for $15, is available on www.jjpraise.com. She said it was produced by Atlanta-based producer, Warren Lankford, through his company, Lankford Music.