Merritt Johnson (1902-1978) was a pianist, organist, and composer on faculty at Northern State College (now University) in Aberdeen, South Dakota; having studies with the likes of Josef Lhevinne and Darius Milhaud in addition to earning degrees from Oberlin, he was head of the NSC piano department for twenty-five years and played in the symphony orchestra there for forty-five.  He was also organist and Choir Director at Bethlehem Lutheran Church during that time. In addition to teaching and performing (and being Dean of the South Dakota Chapter of the American Guild of Organists), Johnson was also fairly prolific in composing and publishing: he was the first South Dakota composer commissioned to create a work for the National Music Teachers Association.  He once learned that his compositions had been used in the Moscow Conservatory of Music and throughout Europe, as well as in Turkey, Alaska and Canada. Johnson’s daughter Mitta Angel has been a violist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 1965 and Dr. Susan Vaughan (one of his students) recently became a resident of Denton, hence a project to digitize Johnson’s music was undertaken at the UNT Music Library. is a link to the collection in the UNT Digital Library, which includes:
  • Chord studies and technique books for piano
  • Anthems for mixed chorus in vocal score
  • Compositions for both organ and piano
  • Transferred LP recordings of piano, organ and choral music
Since this project was done with the approval of Johnson’s family, all items are digitally available open access; their physical counterparts are being cataloged and added to the UNT Music Library’s collection. Efforts are also underway at Northern State to digitize Johnson’s manuscripts, with an eventual plan to share the digital content between the two institutions. We sincerely hope this effort brings Johnson’s music to the awareness of more people, so please feel free to share! Merritt Johnson

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