My name is Naomi Josephine Stansil-Johnson, and I was born in January, 1937 in Boston, Massachusetts. I am the youngest of seven children. My mother and father were art lovers, and fans of all kinds of music, from opera to country. We, their children, were expected to play instruments of every kind. My siblings and I were exposed to the performing arts at a young age. This included playing the piano and violin, singing, dancing, and reciting poetry. We often performed programs together as a family, and because I was the youngest in the group, I was often featured to sing a solo. It was during this time in my life that developed a passion for singing.
Both my sister Marylou and my mother passed away in 1947, when I was at the tender age of ten years old. My brother, Joe, joined the Air Force; my sister Sarah, who was a piano student at Boston University, and my sister Ruth, joined my oldest brother, Gad, who had moved to Cleveland, Ohio. My father and I remained in Boston, where I joined the Girl Scouts, trying to find a place where I could fit in, because I was confused and distraught with the loss of my mother and sister. I recall a few women in our neighborhood that took a liking to me, and wanted to care for and nurture me, but my father did not consider this as an option.
Consequently, my father decided to relocate to Cleveland to find work while I was in junior high. He and I went to Cleveland, where I finished high school, and my father worked for one of the major aluminum companies. After high school, I moved to Chicago, where I stayed for one year, before returning to Cleveland and settling there for two years, to figure out what I wanted to do with my life as a young lady.
I wanted to sing, so I moved to New York City in May, 1959. I found a job at the Record Shack and had another job at the same time at Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI). It was at BMI that a blessing came to me, when I met Betty and Dorothy Staton. We have been the best of friends for over sixty years and still going.
With the help of my new friend, Betty Staton, l moved to Brooklyn at the age of 23, and bought myself and an apartment in a co-op building where I have resided for fifty-four years — it feels like yesterday. I have such precious memories of my friends Dorothy, Betty, Theresa and I, when we modeled clothing by an up and coming designer, who also became our good friend.
I remember being groomed by the Ophelia DeVore Charm School to be like the great Dianne Carroll. I didn’t pursue this opportunity because I was too young, and I let my fears deter me. I participated in a beauty pageant, and because I refused to wear the bathing suit, I could only participate as an artist. I was fortunate to befriend a jazz singer, Nancy Wilson, at a young age, and we’ve kept in contact with each other ever since. She introduced me to some of the jazz world’s greatest musicians, and I have had the opportunity to be a featured singer with them during my stint as a jazz singer in New York City.
I have sung professionally for most of my life; singing a beautiful standard from the American Song Book gives me joy. I’ve had the opportunity to perform in venues throughout New York City. They include the legendary Baby Grand, The 1 Fifth Avenue, The Cutting Room, and Two Steps Down Restaurant, as well as performing at private affairs.
I met my husband Joseph Johnson, who was a talented drummer on the scene. When we had our two children, Nikki and Chris (Kojo), our priorities changed, and our family took precedence. I was employed for twenty-three years at Pratt Institute until retired; I have been a member of the Emmanuel Baptist Church for forty years, where I served on the Board of Trustees. I am also a longstanding member in the alto section of the music ministry choir called “Total Praise.”
Family is everything to me. Now I have a dear son-in-law, Ray Johnson, and six grandchildren. My daughter planned my 80th birthday celebration, which was an extravagant celebration of music and dance, featuring performances by my son, grandchildren, and a host of friends. I was truly overjoyed with the turnout of people that wanted to celebrate “me.” God has been so good to me! I feel blessed to have met so many wonderful and kind people in my life.