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Francis Johnson

February 26, 2010

The African American experience at Penn moves across all social groups. Indeed, all black men and women at Penn, from staff, to faculty, to parents, have navigated racial pathways. From as early as 1832, black men and women have faced racial barriers at Penn. Francis Johnson, a skilled musician, brought his talents to the University, playing in a number of engagements between the years of 1832 and 1842.

Francis Johnson was born in 1792. He honed his musical talents in Philadelphia and achieved noteworthy status in 1818 when he became the first African American musician to publish sheet music. Johnson led a well-known band in Philadelphia that performed for blacks as well as whites. In addition to touring the city, Johnson mentored aspiring musicians in his center city apartment. Crossing racial barriers, Johnson traveled the world performing for the highest social classes.

Penn records show that Johnson and his band performed in engagements at the University between 1832 and 1842. Although his band consisted of white members, Johnson was discriminated against many times at Penn events and others.

Although Johnson wasn’t as intimately connected to Penn as were students and faculty, his story of racial navigation is integral to the history of black life at Penn.

Ben Lewis
COL ‘10

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