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My Heart Sings

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Album Review

This album helps to commemorate Betty Johnson's return to the jazz singers' fold after a "short" layoff of 30 years to raise a family. Prior to her self-imposed hiatus, Johnson had a stellar career. As a young girl, she sang with the Johnson Family Singers, one of the more prominent and successful family singers of religious songs. She also performed at the Grand Ole Opry, recorded classic American folk songs — represented here by "I Love You" — and performed at such top venues as the Blue Angel, Copacabana, and Coconut Grove. She gained fame as part of Don McNeil's popular "Breakfast Club" show broadcast daily from Chicago.

This is, however, a rather unusual recording. None of the tracks are much longer than two minutes (with an average length of just about a minute), for a total of only 38 minutes of music. The CD is more like a sampler or precursor of things to come rather than an album that stands on its own. It's a shame to have given such short shrift to these great tunes and the contributions of the excellent musicians who came to the studio with Johnson. Performing as the Metropolitan Jazz Group are the brothers Lou and Frank Garisto (on piano and guitar, respectively), bassist Pat Merola, and (on several cuts) the ubiquitous multi-reedist (both single and double) Phil Bodner. Bodner also plays trumpet on "Gone With the Wind" and "Lullaby of the Leaves," although not listed as doing so in the credits (and "Lullaby of the Leaves" is also not listed in the CD notes).

Despite Johnson's lengthy absence from performing, her voice sounds as bright, sparkling, flawless, and filled with infectious enthusiasm as ever. However, given the changing background noise and fluctuations in the sound of My Heart Sings, it's clear that this album's contents are a hodgepodge of sets from a variety of sources, including some radio transcriptions. With just these short snippets of well-established standards, the listener ends up feeling unfulfilled. Soft Lights & Sweet Music, the later CD by Johnson with her daughter Lydia Gray, is more generous with its time. Hopefully, additional recordings in the not-too-distant future will also follow the pattern of Soft Lights & Sweet Music, offering more than the small taste of Betty Johnson's homecoming represented by My Heart Sings.


Born: March 16, 1932 in Possum Walk, NC

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '90s, '00s

Singer Betty Johnson got her start with the Johnson Family Singers, a gospel group which included Betty's parents and three brothers (lasting from 1938 throughout the '40s). The Johnson Family Singers enjoyed success down South, due to the group being broadcast daily on WBT radio in Charlotte, NC, and the CBS network. Despite several recordings for the RCA-Victor and Columbia labels (as well as an appearance at the famed Grand Old Opry), the Johnson Family Singers broke up in the '50s. Betty eventually...
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My Heart Sings, Betty Johnson
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