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Purpose

Family bridged through singing gospel music and the blues

By Steven JohnsonJuly 31, 2015

Steven Johnson blues 1
A mural featuring the "Father of the Blues" Robert Johnson Robert Johnson Blues Foundation

Music has been a part of who I am since I was born. Just like my dad, I’ve always been singing. Born and raised in Crystal Springs, Mississippi in a Christian household, we have always sung Gospel music.

Music is a great part of my life. Gospel music is who I am at the core and has had a large influence on my life. The message of resurrection is who I am. And the blues is my heritage and my birthright. I embrace both. 

I didn’t actually know that my granddad was legendary blues musician Robert Johnson until I was about 15 years old. My great grandfather and great grandmother raised my father, Claud. My great grandfather, being a preacher, refused to allow the blues to be played or sung in his home.

Robert Johnson, left
Robert Johnson, left / Robert Johnson Blues Foundation

Growing up as a child, Mr. Marshall Caine was the only grandfather I knew about. Then one day, as I was talking to my paternal grandmother, Mrs. Virgie Cain, I was informed that my biological grandfather was Robert Johnson.

I didn’t actually know that my granddad was legendary blues musician Robert Johnson until I was about 15 years old.

I didn’t know anything about him. I had no idea how big he really was. All we really knew was he was our grandfather. 

Around the same time, people came from oversees (Holland) to Mississippi looking for information on Robert Johnson. Upon a visit to Copiah County (MS) Courthouse, they found and obtained a copy of my dad's birth certificate. This birth certificate revealed Robert Johnson as the father of Claud Johnson. That is when I first realized that Robert Johnson was legendary. 

Seeing how intrigued people were, I wanted to honor his life and legacy. I started studying and singing his music.

It was my mission to bridge the gap between the different genres of music and the meaning of music as a whole. 

I am the only performer from my generation in the family. I bridge the lives of my father and grandfather together in a way that the world can see both lives and legacies. 

I have been a minister for 34 years. I am a Gospel and blues musician. I understand that blues is not the devil music — it is art.

I feel like God looked through the generations of my family and allowed me to be an ambassador. I have been a minister for 34 years. I am a Gospel and blues musician. I understand that blues is not the devil music — it is art. It is a form of expression. It is in its purest form when it is just music. 

Steven Johnson
Steven Johnson / Robert Johnson Blues Foundation

When you put words to music, then it takes on a different meaning. Blues, R&B and Reggae aren’t the Devil’s music. It is the words and content that allows people to start judging and categorizing. 

The way my granddad sung the blues was different from what we know as blues now. It had a different meaning. Back in the day, they sang about life experiences as opposed to singing about earthly things like they do now. It was cleaner then. It had some seductive nature, but wasn’t as raw as it is now. It was about dealing with life and what you went through back then socially and economically. 

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Robert Johnson Blues Foundation

My dad had a vision to give back to the community as well as the state of Mississippi to give back some of the blessings that we have received from Robert Johnson. He formed the Robert Johnson Blues Foundation. The foundation targets the youth in Mississippi to keep the Robert Johnson legacy alive through art education, scholarships and a music competition between future guitar artists. We partnered with Gibson Guitar to form a new generation award given to an inspiring new guitarist. 

Today, I continue my family’s musical legacy with my wife and children. We all sing in the church choir. On August 15, I will perform in the location, 508 Park in Dallas, Texas, where my granddad recorded in 1937. I will play alongside the Dallas Street Choir before playing my granddad’s legendary music with my band, the Robert Johnson Blues Revue.

Tickets to Johnson's performance at 508 Park in Dallas can be purchased here.