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MERRITT JOHNSON  (1902- 1978)

Merritt Johnson grew up in Dunkirk, Ohio. He received his bachelor of music degree at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1925 and a masters of music degree at Oberlin in 1934. While an undergraduate he also taught part time and played the organ in both theater and church near his home town of Dunkirk. Early in his career, he decided to study with great teachers in preference to seeking degrees, and hence had studied with such famous musicians as Josef Lhevinne, Egon Patri, Wilhelm Middleschuldt, Leo Sowerby and Darius Milhaud. During the summer months early in his career he also attended school at Cornell University, Mills College and the American Conservatory in Chicago, IL. Mr. Johnson began teaching at Wesley College, the University of North Dakota, and in 1933 moved to Northern State College in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he taught piano and organ, as well as harmony, counterpoint, ear training, keyboard harmony and composition. For twenty-five years Mr. Johnson was head of the piano department and for several years Director of the N.S.C. Symphony Orchestra. For forty-five years he played with the Orchestra, and for that same period was organist for the Bethlehem Lutheran Church of Aberdeen. For several years he also served as director of the church choir .

Through his years of teaching and playing, Mr. Johnson also composed extensively and published over twenty-five selections and books. He learned that his compositions have been used in the Moscow Conservatory of Music and throughout Europe, as well as Turkey, Alaska and Canada. Honors came through the years. He was the first South Dakota composer commissioned to create a work for the National Music Teachers Assn. of which he served as a board member of the North Central District for two years. He was also commissioned to write a selection for the All-State Orchestra and Chorus Festival in 1972. This was "The Prairie", for which his wife Katherine wrote the words before her death the previous year. The Fall 1971, issue of the "South Dakota Musician" was dedicated to him, and as Professor Emeritus, he was named Teacher of the Year in 1973 as he retired from a lifetime of college work. He was a member of Pi Kappa Lambda and honored by Theta Nu of Phi Alpha Sinfonia. He was a past Dean of the South Dakota Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. He had been a member of the Aberdeen Rotary Club since 1933 and was a longtime member of the Aberdeen Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite and Yelduz Shrine. Merritt Johnson passed away May 10, 1978, in Aberdeen. His two daughters have followed him in musical careers, Mitta Angel in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Marcy Chanteaux in the Detroit Symphony.


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