Community mourns death of Maurice Johnson


Funeral services for former GSU band director will be held Saturday, June 15th at the Zion Traveler Baptist Church in Monroe.

Johnson was a local music legend in the Monroe community. As a high school band director and one of the great directors of the World Famous Grambling Tiger Marching Band, Johnson was known for his musical skills, strict discipline, and love of the profession.
Johnson was born March 2, 1943 to Frank Henry Johnson and Wilma Octavia Johnson.

He was reared in Monroe where his older brother Zemry was his hero and role model.

The Johnson family was a musically talented family, his father played the piano and was the former choir director at Zion Traveler. He played the piano as well, but did not take formal lessons. He started his music career in the 4th grade at the old Booker T. Washington Elementary School, playing the clarinet although he wanted to play trombone like his older brother Zemry.

In 1959, at the age of 16 he played his first “gig,” which was a prom. He played along with his brother Zemry. He learned to ad-lib the hard way when the band members put him up front as a solo on his first “gig.”

He graduated to the tenor and alto saxophone and enjoyed both. He taught music for 14 years at several elementary schools including J.S. Clark Elementary, Lincoln Elementary and Carver Elementary. He was later assigned to teach at Baukdull Faulk and Georgia Tucker schools, which were white schools; he considered that an honor for a black person between 1965 and 1979.

He was the band director at Carroll High School, under principal Curtis Armand. It was his first experience directing a marching band. He was tutored by a nucleus of students from the former band director Darrel Andrews on the mechanics of marching in the Carroll tradition.

However, he wanted the Carroll Band to transcend its reputation as a marching band. He once said, “I was determined to illustrate that we could perform Mozart and Beethoven and that we had been doing it for nearly three decades.”

He became the band director at Grambling in 1987 at the urging of the late Joseph Miller and former GSU director Conrad Hutchinson. He considered it a golden opportunity stepping into the unique worldwide identity Hutchinson developed for the band. “No other band look or sounded” like Grambling at the time and it took considerable work for Johnson to maintain the GSU worldwide image.

In his biography, included in Frederick McHenry’s book, “The indigenous people of Ouachita Parish,” Johnson said, “It was a very, very enlightening experience for me to have been at Grambling as its Band Director. I’m just thankful to God and all the persons who gave me the opportunity to pass that way.”

He was a community legend who is gone but not forgotten.