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Harriett Johnson papers

 Collection 0375-SCPA

Harriett Dolores Johnson (1906–1987) was an American composer and music critic for the New York Post during the twentieth century. This collection contains Johnson’s compositions, recordings, photographs, articles, reviews, correspondence, and travel information throughout her career.


  • 1907–1992
  • Majority of material found within 1950–1986

Conditions Governing Access

Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Please contact SCPA's curator to make an appointment: Email:, Tel: 301.405.9220.

Conditions Governing Use

Restrictions: One file containing Ms. Johnson’s will is restricted until 2044.


25.00 Linear Feet

Scope and Contents of Collection

The Harriett Johnson papers cover the period from 1907 to 1992; the bulk of the materials date from 1950 to 1986. The collection consists of both personal and professional papers including lectures, contracts, correspondence, programs, compositions, journals, datebooks, recordings, clippings, and articles related to Johnson's work as a music critic for the New York, as well as a composer, primarily of pieces for children.

Historical Note

Harriett Dolores Johnson (1906–1987), born in Minneapolis, Minnesota was a musician, composer, music critic, and author. Additionally, Johnson worked as a lecturer at a number of institutions, including the Round Top Summer Festival. Although also a broadcaster, she participated in a number of interviews, including on the show "Musically Speaking," hosted by Mildred Kayden, which is included in this collection. As a critic, she spent 43 years working for The New York Post, starting in 1943 and rising to Chief Critic and Editor by 1959. She continued in this capacity until a few months before her death. Johnson's reviews focused mainly on vocal music, especially opera performances. She served as president of the Music Critic's Circle, which disbanded in 1965. In 1944, she published the book Your Career in Music with E.P. Dutton and Co. Her lecture "Why is the Music of Western Civilization a Miracle?" was published in 1982 by the University of Georgia in conjunction with their Ferdinand Phinizy Lectures series.

Johnson graduated in 1929 from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelors of Music in piano, voice, and composition. She studied piano with Carlyle Scott and composition with Donald Ferguson. Later, she enrolled in Juilliard Graduate School’s composition program (studying with Rubin Goldmark) from the 1929-30 academic year through 1932-33 academic year. Johnson completed her graduate work in May 1933 with "advice" (an invitation to maintain contact with the school and apply to her teacher for advisory hearings and other guidance). During her time at Juilliard she studied piano with Olga Samaroff. Johnson also served as Samaroff's assistant for "Layman's music courses" at the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, subsequently leading the course at NY's Town Hall. Earlier, for summer 1932, Johnson won the "Juilliard Fellowship" to conduct research into the psychology of music at the University of Oregon. Johnson was a member of Sigma Alpha Iota (then an honorary music sorority), as well as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

While active as a critic, she also composed a variety of music. Johnson was especially interested in composing works for children. Some of her compositions include operettas Pet of the Met and Chuggy and the Blue Caboose, as well as various preludes, suites, and sonatas. Johnson collaborated with playwright William Inge to provide music for his plays. Johnson also collaborated with playwright Jerome Chodorov in the creation of the musical Janine.

In a professional capacity, as well as with friends, Johnson spent a portion of her life travelling across Europe attending performances. She was first married to Hubert Neibelung, operatic tenor, who performed recitals of her compositions. Later, Johnson married Herbert Norville, a marriage which ended in divorce and produced a son, Craig Norville.

Arrangement of Collection

This collection is organized into seven series:

Custodial History

Gift of Donna K. Anderson, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Cortland, received in 2019.

Harriett Johnson papers
Jada Twitty
January 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Library Details

Part of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

University of Maryland Libraries
8270 Alumni Drive
College Park MD 20742 United States