Lyric baritone David Johnson is a late bloomer. He was a secret singer for most of his life. The crooner had no formal vocal training. He sang with no church choirs or school chorales. He was strictly a bathtub and shower singer. Professional singers now tell him he was "a natural singer." Born and raised in New York City, David was in his early teens when he discovered a bunch of abandoned vintage record albums in the basement of the converted brownstone on East 30th Street, where he and his mother resided. "They were 78-inch records, left behind by a previous tenant," he explains. "They were all MGM soundtrack albums,dating back to the late '40s through the early '50s, which was indeed the Golden Age of the MGM musical. I brought the records upstairs to our apartment. We had an old phonograph -- and I began to sing along with the MGM stars on these records. My three favorite stars to sing with were Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Howard Keel. It was only in more recent times that I finally came to realize that the MGM stars were my singing teachers!
As a young adult, David made his living as a writer. First, as a junior copywriter in the Promotion Department at Scholastic Magazines and then with the advertising agency, Ketchum, McLeod and Grove. Through a fluke, he segued into the new burgeoning field of soap-opera publications, starting with AFTERNOON TV. He interviewed many of the stars on the New York-based daytime dramas, which were so popular at the time. In the early '70s, he moved to Southern California and continued the same type of work with the West Coast-based soaps. He did this for over 30 years. For the last 11 of those years, he was Associate West Coast Editor of SOAP OPERA WEEKLY. He retired in 2002.
Through his work at that last magazine, David interviewed multi-media luminary Constance Towers, who plays arch villainess Helena Cassadine on ABC's daytime drama, GENERAL HOSPITAL. "From there, we tried to get a TV project going together," David further explains. "It was a lot of fun working with Connie on this project but the funny thing is, she is never home because she leads such an extremely busy life. So you play phone tag with her. This one time I needed to leave a message for her and I don't know what possessed me, but I left a singing message. I sang that great Rodgers and Hart standard, I COULD WRITE A BOOK. It was just for fun. But the next time we had a business lunch, Connie brought up the singing message and told me that I had a very good voice. Now, Connie is not only an accomplished actress but a wonderful singer as well. One of Connie's theatrical triumphs was co-starring with Yul Brynner in the Broadway revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's THE KING AND I. Richard Rodgers personally selected Connie to play Anna in that production. So to have a star of Connie's talent and stature tell this 'secret singer' that he really could sing was all I needed. Pretty amazing! It was the start -- and I was on my way."
Simultaneously, three young friends, Lesleyann Medeiros Coker, Devin Owens and Phil Briggs, introduced David to the world of karaoke at a wonderfully seedy dive called Apache (now defunct) in Studio City. "At first, I was truly awful," David says with a laugh. "I didn't know how to hold a microphone or how to follow the lyrics on the TV monitor. But for the first time in my life I was singing in front of people. Plus I discovered the music tracks of Frank Sinatra and found that I could sing comfortably in his key. So I actually did begin to improve as a singer."
At the same time, David attended Peisha McPhee's Cabaret Performance Workshop, which she ran with renowned accompanist Mel Dangcil. "Peisha and Mel were great, their workshop taught me how to put a cabaret act together," David says. Through Peisha's auspices, David appeared twice at The Gardenia, Los Angeles' premiere cabaret venue. "From those experiences, I knew for sure that I wanted to become a cabaret performer."
By then, David knew he had outgrown karaoke and wanted to sing with a live pianist. To that end, a singer friend, Patti Berman, brought David to The Other Side (TOS), the town's leading piano bar located in Silver Lake, and introduced him to pianist/entertainer Bryan Miller, one of the talented musicians who rotate there on a nightly basis each week. "I began to sing with Bryan every Wednesday evening at TOS," says David. "He was very kind to me, very patient and supportive. I owe Bryan a lot!"
In time, Bryan Miller became Musical Director of David's cabaret shows, which highlight many of the songs he used to sing along with from the MGM musicals of the past. David and Bryan have played such disparate places as Vitello's, Hollywood Studio Bar and Grill, Comfort Cafe, The Paul G. Gleason Theatre and The Moving Arts Theatre.
Additionally, David has co-starred with singer/songwriter James Eubanks in a successful series of annual concerts under the umbrella title of TWO GUYS WITH GLASSES, SINGING. Bryan Miller has been the Musical Director for these shows as well. The talented trio has performed at The Gardenia and the Gleason Theatre.
In November of 2011, David made his "desert debut" as part of Les Michaels' Sunday Matinee Cabaret Series at The Arthur Newman Theatre in Palm Desert. Local Musical Director Joel Baker was David's expert accompanist for this particular engagement.
Then, David was delighted when co-owners of Edge of Eden Records, Tommy Dodson and Richard Taylor, approached the crooner about being the initial recording artist on their new record label. Dodson and Taylor are hands-on producers. Tommy created the arrangements for the CD and accompanied David on the keyboard while Richard handled all of the technical elements involved. The results of that year-long collaboration is a CD with the provocative title, MIND IF I MAKE LOVE TO YOU? The album is now available on cdbaby.com.