For 17 years she’s made it look easy: marriage, motherhood, music career, and managing the enviable feat of becoming one of the most consistently sought-after producers and songwriters in independent soul. It doesn’t hurt that she’s also a knockout. For 17 years, Angela Johnson has been the real-life Superwoman of Independent Music. One of the first Indie Queens of Soul to reign, Johnson has released six albums of guilty pleasures that have caused thousands of souls to sing and feet to move around the globe. Building on the momentum established from her first two critically-acclaimed projects with Cooly’s hot-box, Johnson has become an international sensation in the UK and Japan and credibly positioned herself as a bankable brand with companies seeking fresh and innovative artists-partners. After years of sharing only the smiling siren behind the keys, with her latest Purpose Music release, It’s Personal, Johnson is now ready to reveal the truth behind the image and finally share the intimate secret to her fan’s #1 question: How does she do it?
Johnson will be the first to tell you that at least half of the reason she’s able to do it is her solid Utica, New York upbringing. A musical child prodigy, Johnson was playing piano by age four and violin by nine. The eldest of four, Johnson was supported throughout her formative years by a loving family in her most evident passion. Johnson’s Baptist church family added another layer of encouragement, giving her those crucial first opportunities to rock an audience as a choir director, organist and eventual star performer. At her spiritual and musical training ground, Johnson refined the ear arresting rhythms of her heart and the voice that echoed the notes endlessly playing in her head. Multi-hyphenated personal icons like Patrice Rushen and Angela Winbush set a path for Johnson in sound and illuminated the possible for a blue-collar girl who knew a multi-faceted musical destiny awaited her.
Born for music, Johnson enrolled in the State University of New York at Purchase (SUNY) to further study violin. At SUNY, she met her future Cooly’s hot-box bandmates and songwriting partner, Christian Urich. Together the eclectic soul and acid jazz band landed a deal with Polygram Records that ended almost before it begun. A trifecta of dance hits (“We Don’t Have To Be Alone,” “What A Surprise,” and “Make Me Happy”) earned the band an international reputation for earnest, soulful grooves. In 2002, the group inked a new deal with Virgin Records, and released their critically acclaimed debut album, Take It. While honing her production and songwriting chops on the Cooly’s Hot Box debut album, Johnson decided it was time to express the woman she is alone and simultaneously recorded her solo debut, They Don’t Know (Purpose). Immediately distinguishing her sound from Cooly’s, Johnson’s solo debut, and its radio hit “Ordinary Things” loudly announced exactly what the industry should know: that Angela Johnson was here to stay. The industry listened. Songs from They Don’t Know and its intimate follow-up, Got To Let It Go (Purpose), were licensed by HBO’s The Wire, UPN’s Kevin Hill, FX’s The Shield, and the WB’s Roswell. As a featured spokesperson Angela was also appearing in Japanese car commercials for Nissan. In 2004 Angela briefly reunited with Cooly’s hot-box to record their sophomore album, Don’t Be Afraid-Get On (Purpose). In early 2005 the band was featured in a national TV advertising campaign for SBCglobal.net (AT&T/Cingular). That same year Johnson departed the band who’d later become Tortured Soul. As a front woman for Cooly’s hot-box, Johnson had toured the world, now it was time to conquer it as an artistic force in her own right.
More than a pretty face, Johnson began penning hits for artists like Conya Doss (“Emotions”), Seek (“Journey Into Day”), Laurnea (“No Shame”), Monét (“Wanna Kiss You”), Reel People (“Can’t Stop”), and Japanese R&B superstar Double, for whom Johnson landed a 2001 top ten, gold selling hit, “Angel.” Her achievements as a producer and songwriter earned her the respect of artists’ artists like Maysa, Frank McComb, Eric Roberson, Rahsaan Patterson, Gordon Chambers, Marlon Saunders, and Claude McKnight, among others. All of whom graciously performed on Johnson’s last project, the single producer compilation, A Woman’s Touch, yielding the radio hit “Let Me Know (featuring Eric Roberson)” and three Soul Tracks Readers’ Choice Award nominations, including “Album of the Year.”
On stages from Kyoto to Briton, Johnson’s success, powerful performances, and Madison Avenue appeal helped to cultivate the alluring image of the dynamic Superwoman who was handling life with sass and aplomb, but there was always much more to Johnson’s woman next door persona than met the eye. In addition to her strong family upbringing, the secret weapon that has allowed Johnson to keep so many balls afloat over the last 17 years is her marriage to her manager and Purpose Music co-founder Russell Johnson. The dynamic duo has demonstrated the anti-thesis of every stereotype about Black love, Black family, and the legendary horror stories surrounding female artists with managing husbands. Angela’s comic sensibilities and creative chaos are complemented by Russell’s straight man stability and orderly business savvy. The Johnson’s yin and yang work because there are no leaders, only partners in business and in love. Together raising a daughter, who’s getting her own global education, the Johnson’s take co-parenting as seriously on tour as they do in their Newark, New Jersey home. With her newest project It’s Personal, it was important to Johnson to share her family and marriage experiences on songs like “Days,” “For You” and “Only One,” once and for all smashing the lone woman persona to share all of Angela Johnson with her fans.
After delivering nearly two decades of honest music, Angela Johnson has nothing left to prove. A newly liberated Johnson returns ready to party. Culling the funky sounds of that twilight period between the end of disco and the height of the funk era, Johnson’s production on It’s Personal rediscovers the rhythmic grooves, propulsive basslines, and memorable chords that once poured from live instruments instead of technology. Club bangers like the lead single “Better” and “Hurts Like Hell” fuses warm harmonies and infectious hooks with personal lyrics that tell Angie’s uncompromising truths. Throughout, Johnson gifts her listeners with that rare music her fans can both step to and be moved by, the kind once commonplace “On The Radio.”
With lyrical revelations like “Be Myself” and “Get Myself Together,” not since Got To Let It Go’s “Got To Let It Go,” Johnson’s personal testimony about surviving her mother’s homegoing, has Johnson bared so much of her soul in song. Even on the Eric Roberson’s penned “The Indie In Me,” the only lyric not written by Johnson, Roberson’s take on the joys and trials of life on the road as an artist resonate with Johnson’s story. As does the lifeblood of her marital love on the single, “All In Me,” with up and coming crooner, Darien, serving as a stand-in for Russell on a sultry duet that’s already steaming up the airwaves.
With It’s Personal, Angela tears down the final wall between her perfected image for the stage and the real-life woman who works hard and sometimes stumbles in her effort to keep it sexy for her husband, be a shining example for her daughter, maintain the esteem of her industry, and deliver the kind of music and performances that contributes something real in the lives of her fans. No more illusion, just Angie.