Partner George Bergeron
University of California Irvine
Bernard Johnson (December 12, 1936 - January 22, 1997) was a dancer, choreographer and fashion and costume designer.
Johnson was something of a Renaissance man in dance. He trained in ballet in Detroit, where he was born and where he began his professional career. While still a teen-ager, Johnson performed in New York City with Ward Flemyng's New York Negro Ballet and designed costumes for the company. He also appeared with Aubrey Hitchins's Negro Dance Theater in 1956.
Johnson danced in musicals on and Off Broadway, including the Broadway production of ''On a Clear Day You Can See Forever'' and City Center productions of ''Fiorello'' and ''Showboat.'' He performed in modern and jazz dance groups, among them Dancellington, which he directed with Mercedes Ellington and for which he designed costumes.
He also performed with Cleo Quitman, his former wife, in a cabaret act that toured Europe and was featured at the Apollo and in the Catskills during the 1960's. He danced in the 1980 Off Broadway revue ''Stompin' at the Savoy,'' and directed the Off Broadway musical ''Back in the Big Time'' in 1986.
Johnson choreographed the Broadway and national tour productions of ''Ain't Supposed to Die a Natural Death'' in the early 1970's, the 1975 film ''The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings,'' and acts for Melba Moore, the Manhattans and shows at the Apollo, Madison Square Garden, the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Cafe Versailles in New York. His choreographic credits also included commercials and two command performances for King Hassan II in Morocco in the early 1990's.
Johnson became known as a fashion designer in the early 1970's and had a busy career in later years as a costume designer for theater, dance and films. Trained at the Fashion Institute of Technology, which honored him in 1980, Johnson created stylish, witty and vividly colored costumes that were as slyly suave as his dancing.
His Broadway design credits included ''Waltz of the Stork,'' ''Eubie,'' ''Guys and Dolls,'' ''Bubbling Brown Sugar'' and ''Raisin.'' He also designed costumes for several productions by the Negro Ensemble Company, starting in the late 1960's, and the AMAS Repertory Theater. Other Off Broadway credits include productions at the American Place Theater, South Street Theater, Lincoln Center Repertory Company and Crossroads Theater.
Johnson designed costumes for the New York City Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, the Joffrey Ballet, Ballet Hispanico and several small modern dance companies, as well as the 1985 revue ''Sweet Saturday Night.'' His films included the 1990-91 ''New Jack City,'' and his television credits included costumes for ''The Merv Griffin Show,'' and specials for Bill Cosby, Harry Belafonte and Lena Horne. He created stage wardrobes for Gregory Hines, Savion Glover, the Isley Brothers, Ashford and Simpson, and many rock and jazz musicians, as well as for shows by Judy Garland and Josephine Baker.
Johnson was a member of the Black Film Makers Hall of Fame. He taught jazz dance in Moscow in 1992 under auspices of the American Dance Festival. At the time of his death, he was a professor of dance and costume design at the University of California at Irvine.
He died on January 22, 1997, at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan. He was 60 and lived in Manhattan. The cause was complications from pneumonia, his family said.
He is survived by his companion, George Bergeron; a son, Byian, and a grandson, Marcus Owen, all of Manhattan. Bergeron was assistant to Johnson for ''New Jack City" (1991).
The Bernard Johnson papers (MS-P053) are part of Special Collections & Archives’ performing arts collections at University of California, Irvine. The papers were processed in Spring 2014 by intern Judy Chou, graduate student in Library & Information Science at San José State University. An exhibit featuring original costume designs by Bernard Johnson were on display through mid-December 2014 in the Special Collections & Archives lobby.
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