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Local songwriter orchestrator, producer, conductor and vocal arranger Willetta Greene Johnson has made strides in gospel music.

Local songwriter orchestrator, producer, conductor and vocal arranger Willetta Greene Johnson has made strides in gospel music.

She has arranged music for Mary, Mary, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, and Marvin Sapp. Like the award-winning artists she’s arranged for, she has garnered accolades.

Johnson’s song "Saved" is featured on the 2004 Grammy winning Brooklyn Tabernacle CD Project: "Live this is your House."

“Saved” was one of the lead songs on the choir’s CD.

Johnson said she wrote the song for her mother.

"When I wrote "Saved" my mother had just passed, it was a situation that made me reflect, what legacy or gift she gave me. The gift she gave me was strong faith in God, so "Saved" was written for people going through difficult situations, conflict resolution."

When Johnson found out her song was featured on the CD that won she said she was surprised, because no one writes a song thinking "I’m going to get in the Grammy atmosphere."

However it only seemed destined she would enter that atmosphere as her love of music started at an early age.

Johnson was born in Delaware in 1957 and raised in Michigan by her parents Betty and William Greene, two Tuskegee trained scientists with eccentric music taste.

“Growing up my parents played a lot of different music from classical to Johnny Cash, Motown and R&B. I grew up being exposed to it and fell in love with it,” said Johnson.

Her love of music would soon have her spending years involved in bands and choirs throughout her school days.

At Adams Elementary School she was a part of Glee band, and sang alto in the choir. She wrote her first school song in the sixth grade called "So long, So Farewell."

In a high school band competition, instead of playing a piece by someone else she wrote a concerto that was performed by the school orchestra.

She received orchestration training at Interlochen, Michigan and was trained on the piano by Julliard teacher Irene Grau who she described as a very "demanding but patient teacher."

"I really wanted to learn to play a piece by Beethoven, so I decided I was going to show her I was ready, I played the piece in front of some people I messed up on a couple notes, nobody knew except me and her, I look over and she has this disapproving look on her face, and it was because she didn’t want me to a person who settles."

Grau taught her if you’re going to do something then do it right, and not to settle for anything less than your best, she said.

"She made me more versatile, I can talk to people who know how to sight read, and those who know chords by ear as an teacher you have to be able to do both" said Johnson.

Johnson has also studied the guitar, cello, and clarinet, however, her favorite instrument is the piano.

"I write very well for strings, I’ve been called the strings queen. Strings add new dimensions to a song without getting in the way," said Johnson.

“I wasn’t very good at the guitar, as an orchestraor and arranger I was glad I had visited those other instruments to reference in song writing,” she said.

Johnson is also the founder of StrategicMsuic Inc, musical director of JourneySong, a worship ensemble she founded, and arranger and choral director at a South Side church.

As an arranger and choral director Johnson gets the opportunity to work with professionals and beginners in the industry, she feels honored to do both.

“I feel privileged to have worked with these artists and also look for what I can learn from their own work ethic and dedication. I equally enjoy teaching and mentoring young singers and helping them find their voice, it brings balance because I’m able to share that, I can give that back out,” she said.

With the many hats she wears –– including those of wife and mother –– Johnson knows she doesn’t do it all on her own.

She attributes her accomplishments to her faith in God and work ethic instilled by her parents.

“My faith in God a strong work ethic, my parents instilled that in me. I don’t think there’s anything worth pursuing in life if you don’t intend to do well in it or at least try.”

Despite her accomplishments Johnson remains humble because she knows “staying in a place of humility is how you can get greatness.”

She is a professor of Physics and chemistry at Loyola University, and has been married to her hair stylist husband, Arnold, for 25 years.

She has one son named Jeremy who is pursuing a degree in Japanese and political science at Grinnell College.

Johnson earned a degree of Physics from Stanford University and Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics from the University of Chicago.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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