Dominic Genetti: Honored to meet Virgil Johnson
I'm a big Doo-Wop fan, it's great music.
While in high school I bought a collectors box of Doo-Wop CDs and on Disc 4 — the best one in the box — was this very catchy tune, "Tonight Could Be the Night."
I had never heard it before, but with harmonized background vocals and a great opening with the saxophone, it was an instant favorite. I'll even admit, I played it every night I went out. For good luck of course, in the hopes of meeting someone. It didn't work, but hey it was a good try and put luck on my side.
The group, Virgil Johnson and the Velvets, only released a couple other songs, but "Tonight Could Be the Night" was their best one, making it to No. 26 on the Billboard charts in 1961. It remains one of my favorites to this day, so you can only imagine my reaction when I got my first job in Odessa, Texas and noticed Johnson was a native.
As it turns out he had moved to Lubbock, Texas, and continued on as an educator. I begged the paper to let me do the story because no one I spoke to around town knew who Johnson was. There were no previous stories done and only Wikipedia and a couple other outlets mentioned he was an Odessa native. So the compromise was to tag along with a sports reporter and photographer to Lubbock and shoot video at an Odessa High School football game and include a stop at Johnson's home to get the story done.
Johnson had this very authoritative way about him, it more than likely came from him being in education administration, and when he spoke about his life, his Doo-Wop days and everything in between, he had command of the room. It was an honor to not only sit there and meet him, but to listen to the way he told his stories. He projected them and commanded attention in a way that I have only seen in my grandfather.
It was so interesting to hear what Johnson had experienced as a singer in the dim limelight of a music craze, snubbed at first but has now become part of our culture and Americana.
I've interviewed many celebrities and folks of great stature in society, but I can say with great honesty that meeting Johnson is truly one of my favorite moments as a journalist. And I think it's in part to his personality.
Johnson will be missed by his family and close friends for sure, but the music world should also realize they have lost a unique singer.
Dominic Genetti writes for the Hannibal, Mo., Courier-Post.