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Edward “Noon” Johnson

Edward Noon Johnson was a New Orleans musical personality, multi-instrumentalist, and inventor.

Edward “Noon” Johnson

Courtesy of Tulane University, William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz

Noon Johnson's Band. Hurley, Jack (Photographer)

Edward “Noon” Johnson was a New Orleans musical personality, multi-instrumentalist, and inventor. A unique figure in the annals of New Orleans music history, Johnson often performed on a bazooka-like instrument—a type of horn he invented—gaining a reputation as an entertaining musical personality as well as a gifted jazz, popular, and brass band tuba and guitar player. Recordings with jazz greats Bunk Johnson and Kid Thomas make up part of Johnson’s audio legacy.

Johnson was born on August 24, 1903. A musically precocious multi-instrumentalist from an early age, Johnson was known to manufacture or invent a number of homemade instruments. By age fourteen he had begun learning ukulele, banjo, harmonica, and other assorted instruments of his own devising. His “funnel-phone”—a prototype of the bazooka, made from various found objects, including brass tubes and a gramophone horn—found him a certain amount of notoriety early on, as Johnson’s entertaining persona and the instrument’s unique sound caught the interest of radio announcers and talent shows. This local fame eventually led to an appearance on the popular Bob Burns radio show, broadcast from Los Angeles.

During the 1920s Johnson played banjo with jazz greats Kid Rena and Chris Kelly. In 1924 Johnson traveled to Biloxi to perform with Walter Coquille (a.k.a. “Mayor of Bayou Pom Pom”), who was known for his early comic, Cajun-dialect, spoken-word recordings. Beginning in the mid-1920s, Johnson took guitar instruction from Black Walter Nelson and began incorporating that instrument, as well as tenor banjo, into his performances.

By the 1930s Noon­­–who was reportedly given the nickname for the time of day he said any self-respecting musician should sleep until (or after)–headed a touring trio (sometimes quartet) that was much in demand across the South. Most often referred to as Noon Johnson’s Bazooka Band, the group was recorded for a series called the “Larry Borenstein Collection” in 1960 and featured Johnson along with guitarist Lawrence Rankins and banjoist Harrison Verrett. Featuring a repertoire that ranged from popular and country and western tunes to jazz—and that has encouraged several comparisons to the jug bands of the mid-South—this recording also boasts notable jazz acts Kid Thomas, Creole George Guesnon, and ukulele player Lemon Nash.

Often Johnson performed as a street musician and in restaurants over the course of his career. It wasn’t until the age of forty-five that he took up the tuba, which he would play with Kid Howard’s brass band and the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, among others. In the 1950s Johnson replaced Lawrence Marrero in clarinetist George Lewis’s band.

Johnson’s musical work was committed to wax in recording sessions with Bunk Johnson, Kid Thomas, and others. Johnson performed with the first Preservation Hall Band tours in 1961 and played, on occasion, with Percy Humphrey’s band at Preservation Hall.

Johnson died on September 18, 1968.