Biography of Aaron J. Johnson
I had early piano lessons. Thanks to our family friends the Yearwoods, I had a piano of my own to play since I was in about the second grade. (Ed Yearwood was a great tennis player at Morgan State College in the 1950's, you can look it up!) I don't remember the name of my first piano teacher, but for many years I studied with Mr Richburg on Buchanan St. He had two terrific musician sons, Derric and Terrance, and I was fortunate to have Terrance as a classmate in high school. Terrance could play most instruments very well, especially drums and piano.
I started in school music as a drummer at Bunker Hill Elementary School in NE Washington, DC. I started in the 4th Grade and by the 6th grade, the senority system dictated that I would be playing snare drum (up from cymbals and bass drum). However, I never could keep my mouth shut and my band director, Hershel McGuiness, found out I played the trombone. I had started on the trombone in the DC Youth Orchestra Program between 5th and 6th grade. Of course I wanted to play something cool like the trumpet, but they ran out of trumpets, and the brass choice became the trombone or the baritone horn. I took on look at the size of the baritone horn case and a tromboninst was born. In those days, 1968-1976, the DCYOP was at the height of its powers teaching close to 1000 kids in the summer on beginning, preperatory, elementary, junior and senior levels in both bands and orchestras.
I am a 1976 graduate of McKinley Tech High School. McKinley Tech was a musical powerhouse on the on the verge of a decline. You could major in music at Tech either as a vocalist, pianist or instrumentalist. The head of our music department was Beatrice Gilkes, a beautiful woman who graduated from Oberlin in the 1950's. Most influential to me was Peter D. Ford, Jr. Mr. Ford or Peter D. as he was affectionally called inspired most of the instrumental music students. Most people have one of those teachers in their life, that made the difference in a big way. Peter Ford was a top trumpet player in town, one that used to play all the big shows that would come to DC. For many years he was in the house band at the Howard Theater. (In the old days there was a black theater in each town, collectively they formed the chitlin circuit.) Peter D. gave me my foundation as a professional musician. Under his mentorship I was introduced to Rick Henderson in whom's big band I cut my teeth. Ford encouraged me to write for all of the school ensembles including the jazz ensemble, marching band, brass ensemble,and concert band, and would sometimes let me lead the jazz ensemble at assemblies.