September 30, 2022 – One of the current kings of gospel quartet music, Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson, has died suddenly at the age of 50. Johnson was found dead in his Atlanta, GA home this morning. An autopsy is scheduled. Johnson was known for big gospel radio hits such as “Let Go and Let God Have His Way,” “Be Right,” and “Hide Behind the Mountain.”
“I’m in total disbelief,” says Black Smoke Music Worldwide founder Kerry Douglas, who first discovered Johnson when he was performing at the American Gospel Quartet Convention in Birmingham, AL in the late 1990s. “I saw Keith perform there and I was just taken by how he moved the audience,” Douglas recalls. “He was an electrifying performer. He was the second act I ever signed, and he was my first signing to become a major artist. We used to sell CDs and The Gospel Truth magazines out of the trunks of our cars. We sold over 10,000 copies back in the day. Keith was like a brother. I was there when his first child was born. We fussed and fought with each other since we met, but that relationship built this company. A lot of the big artists today stand on Keith’s shoulders because of those sacrifices we both made in those early days. Keith began his career with Black Smoke and ended with Black Smoke.”
Johnson was born Keith Lamar Johnson on May 17, 1972, in Brooklyn, NY. When he was five years old, Johnson’s family started calling him “Wonderboy” for his wonderous musical talents. As a teenager, he enjoyed going to Harlem’s Apollo Theater to see great gospel acts such as John P. Kee and the Rev. James Cleveland. During his teens, he sang with the Boys Choir of Harlem and with his father’s quartet group, The Spiritual Voices.
Johnson’s first Black Smoke Music Worldwide hit was 1998’s “Hide Behind the Mountain,” a rootsy a cappella track with a steady drumbeat. Then came other hits such as the massive “Be Right,” “Send A Revival,” “I’ll Fly Away,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling,” which showcased the singer’s gravelly tenor. In 2004, he moved on to RCA-owned Verity Records where he released two albums and scored his biggest hit of all, “Let Go and Let God.” Over the years, Johnson’s bouncy rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” has become an annual favorite on gospel radio stations.
After one-off albums with Malaco Records and Motown Gospel, Johnson scored a production deal with SRT Entertainment which released his album, Keep Pushin’, through a distribution deal with Shanachie Records. “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Keith ‘Wonderboy’ Johnson,” says Shanachie General Manager, Randall Grass. “I first heard his song ‘Let Go and Let God’ around 20 years ago and was immediately impressed; here was an artist injecting the quartet tradition into a contemporary style and it was great. A few years ago, we had the opportunity to release a new album by him which was an equally satisfying melding of traditional and contemporary gospel. His contribution has been great, and he will be missed.”
This past spring, Johnson returned to Black Smoke Worldwide where he released the album, Restructure, Renew & Reunion, which featured the radio single, “It Was You.” Johnson has also acted in touring musicals such as “PMS” and “What A Man Wants, What A Woman Needs.” “He had a bubbly personality,” says Glinda Perkins, Program Director for WXVI in Montgomery, AL. “He was very personable and very serious about music. He was his own best pitchman and even though he had people who worked for him, he was always the best promoter for his music.”
A wake and musical tribute will take place Friday, October 14, 2022, at 6 PM ET, with a homegoing service (funeral) taking place on Friday, October 15, 2022, at 9 AM ET. Both events take place at The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, 833 Gardner C. Taylor Blvd. (Formerly Marcy Avenue) in Brooklyn, NY 11216. Attendees should enter through the red doors on Madison Street. Interment will take place immediately after the Saturday service at The Evergreens Cemetery at 1629 Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn, NY 11207. The Evergreens is the resting place of entertainment giants such as tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Jazz musician Lester Young. The service will stream live via YouTube: @ConcordBrooklyn
Johnson is survived by his parents, Susan and Phillip Johnson; a sister, Attorney Sonya Denise Johnson; and two daughters, Brianna Destiny Johnson and Elyse Victoria Johnson.
– From a media release
Libra Nicole Boyd, PhD is a musician, award-winning author, gospel music aficionado, and the founder and editor of Gospel Music Fever™. Her commitment to journalistic integrity includes bringing you reliable gospel music content that uplifts and advances the art form. Libra is presently working on several scholarly projects about gospel music in the media as well as gospel music in social movements.
9 Replies to “Keith ‘Wonderboy’ Johnson dies suddenly at 50”
I’m shocked, what a wonderful talent. My choir and I had so much fun learning rehearsing The 12 Day of Christmas a few years back. RIP my brother, I can almost hear God saying welcome home my good and faithful servant.
His arrangement has become a holiday favorite!
He was such a nice,sweet humble person I love his music he came to visit our church New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Charlotte NC twice when Pastor Bobby D.Houze was pastoring and came again in April of this year under our new Pastor Dr.Quintrell Burrell he will truly be missed.
Such a shark to her about Keith back in 2000 my gospel group the Ponder Singer us to open up for him in Florida he will be missed the family has our condolences and prayers ❤️
Thank you so much for sharing. I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of Keith. I remember when he first came to my little town in North Carolina, He was the talk of the town for his musical abilities. I had a co worker who after hearing him he would always follow him whenever he heard that Keith was on any programs, and of course we would always hear about Keith Wonderboy Johnson!!! I wish to convey my deepest condolences and prayers to Keith’s family, friends and fans. Carrie Chatman
I believe we will find comfort in the sharing of these memories in the days to come. Keith had a way of making strangers feel like personal friends.
It is a shock to hear of the loss of one of gospel greats I have appeared on a few gospel programs with him our condolences go out to the family.
Unexpected indeed. Prayers up!
This has hit the Gospel Music Industry hard. My sincere condolences to his family.
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