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Who Betty Johnson Gray
What Obituary: Betty Johnson Gray - Last Surviving Member of Johnson Family Singers
When November 6, 2022
Where Bluffton, SC

Bluffton, SC - Betty Johnson Gray, Singer of "I Dreamed" and "Little Blue Man", dies at 93.

Betty Johnson Gray, the last surviving member of The Johnson Family Singers and popular girl-singer of the 1950s, died of natural causes at her home in South Carolina on Sunday, November 6, 2022. She was 93. For almost 40 years, she had been a resident and champion of Haverhill, NH.

Betty Johnson Gray was lead singer of the renowned American performers The Johnson Family Singers of Charlotte, NC. From the late 1930's, the popular gospel group toured, performed, and ultimately recorded over 50 songs for Columbia Records (1946-1953) and a similar number of songs on the RCA-Victor label (1954-1959). After winning a singing contest, they were signed for regular broadcasts by WBT from 1938 to 1951. By 1948, she had her own 15-minute radio program. But her solo-career really took off after winning the star-making top tv show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, when she transitioned from religious music to jazz standards and pop music.

Originally signed by Columbia Records as a teenager and then by Bell Records in 1954 after recording a children's album with Eddy Arnold, she signed with RCA Victor in 1955. They sent her to Chicago, Illinois where she was a regular on the syndicated television series Eddy Arnold Time and the daily network radio show, Don McNeill's Breakfast Club. Signing with Bally Records, in 1956, Betty's hit, "I Dreamed" reached number 9 on the Billboard charts. That same year, Cash Box magazine, a music industry bible, voted her the #1 new girl vocalist ahead of Patsy Cline and Brenda Lee. From 1957 Johnson was a regular performer on The Tonight Show starring Jack Parr. This led to a record contract with Atlantic Records in 1957, for which she had her next big hit, "Little Blue Man" followed by "Dream". Johnson continued on Tonight until 1962 when Paar was replaced by Johnny Carson, while also making appearances on a number of other television shows and headlining at The Persian Room and The Blue Angel in New York.

In his soon to be published book, "Ducktails, Drive-Ins and Broken Hearts: An Unsweetened Look at 50s Music", Hank Davis dedicates a chapter to Johnson, stating:

"If I were being interviewed by someone who thought they had a pretty good knowledge of 1950s pop culture, I might ask them to name somebody who had ten records on the Billboard Top Pop Singles, had appeared on the Jack Benny show, the Jack Paar Tonight show, the Bob Newhart show, Howdy Doody, Kukla Fran and Ollie, the Ed Sullivan show, the Grand ole Opry, and also appeared at the Copacabana in NY, The Cocoanut Grove in LA, and the Sands in Las Vegas...the correct answer is Betty Johnson".

After a hiatus to raise two daughters and complete her college education, Betty Johnson returned to show business in the 90's, performing at New York venues such as The Oak Room at the Algonquin and The Cafe Pierre. She also digitally restored and published a catalog of her earlier work, founding her own music label (Bliss Tavern Music) in the process. An interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air, renewed interest in her work and life story. This led to the publishing of her audio-biographic audio book, "In Her Own Words" in 2007 as well as the use of her music in TV and film. She continued to perform and record until recently. In 2017, at age 88, she recorded and released her last album, "Four Shades of Gray" accompanied by her daughters and granddaughter.

The Johnson Family Singers and Betty Johnson are included and interviewed in the 2019 Ken Burns documentary, "Country Music".

She left her beloved home of Bliss Tavern in the Haverhill Corner Historic district in 2019. For decades she had remained very involved in supporting the community as a board member of the local library, the Court Street Arts, and the local Congregational church as well as founding her cherished Haverhill Garden Club. For much of the 70's and 80's, she travelled the state as a master flower show judge while also pursuing a degree at Dartmouth College.

Betty is survived by her son Harold Richard Redding II of Charlottesville, VA, her daughter Lydia Gray Bartholow of Bluffton, SC and Elisabeth C. Gray of Madrid, Spain, six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and ten nieces and nephews.

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