During the 100-year anniversary of George Washington Johnson’s passing, the Friends of Maple Grove along with Grammy winner Tim Brooks held a ceremony to honor his life and contributions to music.
Johnson was one of the earliest African-American recording stars. The unveiling ceremony took place on April 12, at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens. It was held at “The Center,” located inside the cemetery. A table for refreshments was set up in the waiting area, outside the “Celebration Hall” where the day’s events were held.
The ceremony included two lectures, by special guests Dr. Kathleen Velsor, associate professor in the School of Education at the SUNY Westbury and Brooks, who is also a local historian.
Brooks is the author of the book Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890-1919. The first three chapters of his book, are dedicated to Johnson.
“It will help spread knowledge about George Washington Johnson,” Brooks said. “I see this event as giving justice to him.”
Other events included a performance by actor Larry Marshall, the unveiling and a proclamation from Congresswoman Grace Meng made to the Friends of Maple Grove.
“He sounded like nothing heard before,” said Brooks.
For the memorial plaque that was placed in the cemetery, local historian Carlos Ballenas credited the students of the Aquinas Honor Society, School of the Immaculate Conception for writing the text and artist David Ostro who did the engraving. Ballenas also thanked the MusiCares Grammy Foundation for the donation they provided that helped create the plaque.
“I’m pleased to be a part of this,” said Jennifer Leff, director for the MusiCares Foundation, east region. Leff described the event as a “great opportunity to learn something about someone who is important in the industry.”
“To see the plaque mounted on the stone of Johnson’s grave was inspiring,” said Brooks. “It was tangible recognition of someone, who got so little recognition from historians.”
On behalf of Congresswoman Meng, Community Liaison Don Capalbi presented the Friends of Maple Grove with a proclamation making April 12, “Friends of Maple Grove Day.” Capalbi recited the proclamation, before presenting it to the Friends of Maple Grove.
“It was an immense honor,” said Ballenas. “We were very honored to be recognized for our accomplishments.”