Preservation Hall sent out the word earlier today that clarinet player Ralph Johnson – who had played with Jerry Butler, the Impressions, Dr. John, Wallace Davenport, Johnny Adams, Chuck Carbo – died today at the age of 71. According to the Hall:
Musicians teemed through the Sixth Ward district where Ralph Johnson was raised. His father, Son Johnson, was a clarinetist; when he handed the instrument to his son when Ralph was seven years old, the moment embedded itself in Ralph’s memory as a solemn rite of passage. Still, making music proved anything but solemn for the young artist, who has since spent decades onstage with New Orleans artists of every style. Playing all reed instruments as well as flute and piano, he performed on his first gig at thirteen — he had to lie about his age to even be allowed into the 21 and over venue. His connection to Preservation Hall dates back to appearances there with drummer Chester Jones and other bandleaders. For more than fifteen years Johnson has been a beloved member of the Preservation Hall band, in which he carries on the great traditions of clarinet artistry established in years past by Willie Humphrey and George Lewis.
“Preservation Hall is a place where you can play what’s in your soul and make people happy. It’s not about playing for yourself; it’s playing to see a smile. The more smiles I see, the happier I am. When you play this music, you let your spirit go. You let your spirit say what it has to say. You play your heart out for the people because it makes you happy, just like it makes them happy. That’s all that you can do. Why waste this precious time in your life doing anything that doesn’t make people smile?” “I’ve played it all — rock & roll, straight-ahead — because all of it, all music, is made by God, not man. That’s why I love the whole picture.”
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