Johnson found musical influences where ever he could around the city. One of his biggest sources of education came when he studied at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) in 2003. While there, he was with Trombone Shorty, Christian Scott, and the current bandleader of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jonathan (Jon) Batiste.
He continued to study at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation’s School of Music and at the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp under his longtime mentor, Edward “Kidd” Jordan. While he was building upon his musical career, he made time to attend the University of New Orleans (UNO) and received a B.S. in Business.
As one of the top emerging musicians in the city, Johnson quickly became highly sought after. He toured or played with Harry Connick, Jr., Aaron Neville, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Preservation Hall, Mannie Fresh, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and many others.
Even with all of the success of playing gigs for others, he made time to perform with his own bands: Calvin Johnson and Native Sons and Chapter: SOUL. Calvin Johnson and Native Son, which is traditional jazz, began in 2008 and have two highly regarded albums. Their second, a self-titled release, was voted as one of the top releases of 2015 by an Offbeat magazine reader poll. Chapter: SOUL came along in 2015. It’s a mix of electric street brass and bounce rhythms with hip-hop, old school sampling, and New Orleans street beats. Johnson calls this new sound, “NOLA future funk.”
In 2012, Johnson got his first taste of acting when he appeared on the hit HBO series, Treme. In 2017, he was in the film, Last Fair Deal, with Clarke Peters. Recently, he was in Dan Pritzker’s 2019 film Bolden! where he played Frank Lewis, a cocky and arrogant clarinetist. Bolden! tells the story of the great New Orleans cornetist Buddy Bolden.
Giving back to the community is just as important to Johnson as it is to play in front of them. He has been involved with the Preservation Hall Foundation as a clinician and leads the youth music workshops. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans (MaCCNO). It’s a 501(c)3 non-profit whose mission is: “To empower the New Orleans music and cultural community through collective self-representation advocating in the interests of cultural preservation, perpetuation, and positive economic impact.”
Johnson is the artistic director of Trumpets Not Guns. Which is a New Orleans-based non-profit whose mission is to provide alternatives to the guns that children so easily acquire by giving them musical instruments in exchange for the firearm. Plus, he has become a mentor and faculty member at the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp.
Who makes the best red beans and rice?
Honestly bruh, my mom makes the best red beans and rice. The only person to ever make bullets better than my mom’s wuz my grandma, may she RIP. It’s just something about age and wisdom that informs you of the perfect amount of water, seasoning meat, and bean ratio!
When did you learn to make red beans and rice?
I learned how to first make red beans and rice as a kid coming home from school and having to crack a can of Blue Runners open and chopping up a weenie or smoked sausage in it. That eventually graduated to soaking the beans for my grandmother, then chopping the seasoning, then eventually she’d let me look over her shoulders watching the whole process. I probably cooked my first pot from scratch while in high school.
What do red beans and rice mean to you?
Red beans and rice means Mondays, it means a corner store lunch special: red beans and rice with a pork chop, it means it’s time to critique whoever cooked the beans if it wasn’t ya momma’s!!!
Are there any special memories that are brought up when you think back on it?
Yes, I think back to growing up how we had red beans and rice at every holiday and special occasion: Christmas, Indigenous People’s Day, New Years’, birthdays, graduations, etc.
Do you only eat red beans and rice on a Monday?
Hell no. I cook them on Sunday so they have time to set and get right overnight just in time for Monday. I put half of them in the freezer then I eat the other half until they’re gone.
What’s your process for cooking a pot of red beans?
Soaking overnight and lots of seasoning (anything else and I’d have to charge you for my recipe, lol).
What do you serve with your red beans and rice?
Anything smothered: smothered chicken or smothered pork chops.
Did you have any new projects that you’d like to pass along?
Yes, please. Saturday, May 1, I’m hosting a screening of the film Bolden! (which I’m in) followed by a performance and Q&A at the NOLA Jazz Museum, 7 PM CST.
For more information on Calvin Johnson and his music, visit him online at https://www.calvinjohnsonmusic.com.
For the latest news on where he’ll be and what he’s up to, you can find him on social media:
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KEEP THE RED BEANS COOKIN’!
Eric Olsson is the food blogger of RedBeansAndEric.com. He publishes new recipes and interviews weekly. He has developed recipes and written articles for the famous Camellia brand in New Orleans, Louisiana. He has been mentioned in Louisiana Cookin‘ magazine and has had recipes featured in Taste of Home magazine – with his Creole Turkey recipe being runner up in their annual Thanksgiving recipe contest. He lives outside of Detroit, Michigan, with his wife and four children.