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supplement to
The Duke – Where and When
A Chronicle of Duke Ellington's Working Life and Travels

Since "The Duke - Where and When" is very large, I moved some material to supporting webpages. This one is about
This webpage was created and is maintained by David Palmquist,
with considerable input from fellow researchers
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Wini Johnson

Wini Johnson was a dancer, vocalist and entertainer who joined Ellington's orchestra in Detroit in February 1944. She left the orchestra in late September or in early October 1944 when it played the Downtown Theatre in Chicago. While Ellington advertisements with her name appeared until mid-October, this was likely because advertising copy would have used information sent to the venue managers some weeks before the events.

Wini married Dr. Middleton H. ("Midi" or "Middie") Lambright Jr. in 1945 and they made their home in Cleveland, where they seem to have been socially prominent.

Wini Johnson Lambright appeared on the cover of Jet Magazine in 1952 and was mentioned in that magazine from time to time in the 1950s and early 1960s. The Lambrights were divorced, and Wini remarried a George Lee, but was separated from him in or by 1969. She died in 1980.

Ellington or his ghost writer Stanley Dance wrote about this vocalist as Wini Brown in Music is My Mistress:

Wini Brown

Wini Brown's father was one of the intellectual waiters who graduated from the old Cotton Club. He was intelligent and hip, as all of the Cotton Club waiters were in those days. He had two lovely daughters and two handsome sons, and they lived across the street from us on St. Nicholas Avenue. When Wini became a chorus girl at the Cotton Club, she was so young she had to have her mother bring her to work and come back at the end of the show to take her home. Wini first married Stepin Fetchit and then, in 1944, when we were playing in the Hurricane, she was in a Broadway show called Early to Bed. One night the entire cast came to the Hurricane for one of their celebrations, and Wini, always a put-on artist, took her turn singing. She got such a good audience reaction that, when I went over to congratulate her and gave her good wishes, I invited her to join the band. She was a beautiful chick and she copped out by saying, "You've got to be kidding! I'm not a singer, I'm a dancer."
   Nevertheless, she opened with us our first night out of town at the Downtown Theatre on State Street in Chicago. Dusty Fletcher was on the bill too, I remember. Everything was going fine until a very famous young doctor, Midi Lambright, married her and dragged her off to Cleveland.

Despite its title and several factual errors, the MIMM article is clearly about Wini Johnson. Wini Brown, about ten years younger than Wini Johnson, graduated from Englehart High School in Chicago, singing first with Eddie Mallory's orchestra under the name Annabella, then joining Lionel Hampton's band at age 18 in February 1946 as Winnie or Wini Brown, shortly after Wini Johnson left the scene. Wini Johnson Lambright appears to have lived with her son and her second husband in Cleveland during Ms Brown's career.

The Fats Waller Broadway musical "Early to Bed" played at the Broadhurst Theater from June 1943 to May 1944. Wini's visit to the Hurricane was probably during the spring or summer of 1943 since Ellington was there frp, April to September 1943 and by the time he returned at the end of March 1944, Wini was already working with him.

MIMM's misidentification of the singer caused some confusion in the world of Ellington research, in part because Wini Brown worked with then former-Ellingtonian Cootie Williams. Why Ellington or Dance called Duke's singer Wini Brown is a mystery.

Who was Wini Johnson?

From her brother's autobiography (Howard Eugene Johnson: A Dancer in the Revolution: Stretch Johnson, Harlem Communist at the Cotton Club By Howard Eugene Johnson) and obituary we learn:

Wini Johnson's career before Ellington

Wini Johnson's career with Ellington

  • Barry Ulanov, in his 1946 biography Duke Ellington p. 271, says Wini replaced Betty Roché in 1943. Wini in fact appears to have joined the Ellington orchestra in Detroit in mid-February, 1944. She was probably hired in late January or early February (the Duke Ellington, Inc., March 31, 1944 financial statements show she borrowed $125 from DEI on February 4 and it paid her New York to Detroit train fare on February 15).
  • New Desor Vol. 2, Stratemann p.256 and Variety 1944-02-16 p.37 report she joined the band on February 11. Ted Yates' I've Been Around column in the Kansas City Plaindealer 1944-03-03 p.6 says "Wini Johnson now with Duke Ellington's Band." These reports differ from England's The Melody Maker and Rhythm 1944-03-18, which reported she joined Ellington "this week."
  • The Palace theatre ads in the Akron Beacon Journal 1944-02-17 to 1944-02-19 include Winnie Johnson as a featured act.
  • The RKO Palace ad in The Columbus Dispatch 1944-02-29 p.B-5 names Wini Johnson.
  • The Pittsburgh Courier, 1944-02-19 p.15 announced Winsome Wini Johnson had joined Duke Ellington's orchestra as featured vocalist in addition to Betty Roché, who was staying with the orchestra (the same announcement said Herb Jeffries had rejoined the band).
  • A plug for Ellington's appearance at the Palace in The Columbus Dispatch, 1944-02-24 p.10-A, includes "as a special attraction, beauteous Wini Johnson, singing star of the Broadway stage hit, 'Early to Bed,' will be featured." Page 3_F of the 1944-02-27 edition includes her publicity portrait. Its caption describes her as a featured member of Ellington's show. Wini is listed in the ads from 1944-02-28 to 1944-03-01. The review in the 1944-03-01 edition says "...Wini Johnson, like the majority of Ellington's vocalists, is easier to look at than listen to."
  • Winnie was named as a supporting act in the announcement, ad and review of Ellington's appearance at the RKO Temple in the Rochester Times-Union, 1944-03-01 p.10 and 1944-03-02 p.20, and in the Rochester Daily Record, 1944-03-04 p.2. The ad includes her picture.
  • A charming portrait of a smiling Wini Johnson appears in The Boston Herald, 1944-03-12, p.41. Variety's 1944-03-15 review of the March 9 show at the RKO Boston says she sang "People Will Say" and "When the Nylons Bloom." Betty Roché's singing is also mentioned in this review and they are both mentioned in The Billboard's 1944-03-25 p.28 report of band grosses at the RKO-Boston.
  • Announcements of the forthcoming Hurricane engagement in the Brooklyn Eagle 1944-03-24 p.17, The New York Sun, 1944-03-27 p.19 and The Pittsburgh Courier 1944-04-01 all name Wini.
  • Variety's 1944-04-05 p.34 review of the Hurricane engagement says "Ellington has put a new female singer with his four trumpet, three trombone, five sax, four rhythm group: she's Wini Johnson, an extremely attractive Negress who is only fair on voice."
  • The Pittsburgh Courier's 1944-04-08 review of the Hurricane show says

    'Particular interest was centered on the newcomer to the Ellington aggregation, however, Miss Wini Johnson, who was making her New York night club debut as a singer. Although she was nervous, the young singer gave a very good account of herself, and most of the time managed to convey the idea that she was cool as a cucumber. Her voice is stronger and more developed than it has seemed at other times in her career, and seems well on the way to being a fine one. Lovely to look at, Miss Johnson turns out to be 'the refreshing young personality' that Duke introduces her as. Time will taper off the rough edges, and the young lady is well on her way to stardom.'

  • The Billboard's 1944-04-15 review of Ellington's Hurricane show says

    'Wini Johnson contribs two numbers, Shoo-Shoo Baby and When the Nylons Bloom Again from the Stemusical [sic] Early to Bed, of which she is an alumna. Gets over to a moderate reception. '

  • Timner V shows Wini singing Everything But You with Marie Ellington in a broadcast from the Hurricane on 1944 05 28. While the Brooklyn Eagle radio schedule shows Ellington broadcasts this date at 7 p.m. and midnight, Marie is not known to have joined the band this early. New Desor, [at the time of writing] and Nielsen do not show recordings from this broadcast, but Timme Rosenkrantz acetates 33-5-A and 33-5-B do, albeit with different song lists. Duke Ellington, Inc.'s vocalists payroll remained at $160/week for the weeks ended April 5 through May 31, with one exception when it dipped to $143, and for the last Hurricane week it dipped as well, to $74. New Desor has Marie joining the band in early October; if she and Wini did sing together at the Hurricane, Marie was not paid from the regular vocalist payroll.
  • Various sources reported Wini became engaged to Canada Lee in May 1944 and the Brooklyn Eagle 1944-06-04 p.25 announced their big day as June 6. The "Hollywood" column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 1944-06-12 reported they were married. The New York Age, 1944-06-10 p.51, announced her wedding to Canada Lee, planned for June 6, had to be postponed because she had been hospitalized for a minor operation "last week." Billy Rowe's Note Book in The Pittsburgh Courier 1944-07-01 p.13 said the wedding did not go ahead as planned. Stratemann p.256 says Wini made headlines in the trade press because she was engaged to Lee and because she called the wedding off.
  • Wini is named in The Springfield Daily Republican 1944-06-12 p.7 and 1944-06-13 p.8 ads for Ellington's Riverside Ballroom appearance. She is also named in the Rochester Times-Union ad 1944-06-24 p.7 for the July 1 appearance at the Sports Arena.
  • Wini was also named in Variety's 1944-07-19 review of Ellington's show at the Roxy in July, which says she sang "When the Nylons Bloom Again."
  • .
  • The Canton Repository 1944-09-07 ad for Ellington's show at the Palace there names her.
  • Wini is also named in in publicity for Ellington's show at the Palace in Columbus The Columbus Dispatch 1944-09-07 p.B-3. Wini and comedian Dusty Fletcher are named in the ads 1944-09-08 p.16 and 1944-09-11, in the plug in the 1944-09-11 edition, and the caption to a photo of Duke in the 1944-09-10 edition. She is described as the featured vocalist in the 1944-09-12 announcement, and her singing is mentioned in the review of 1944-09-13 and a plug on 1944-09-14
  • Wini is named in the ads, publicity and review in Louisville's The Courier-Journal from 1944-09-21 to 1944-09-23 as well as Variety's 1944-09-27 review of the Louisville show.
  • Wini is also named in ads in The Chicago Daily Tribune from 1944-09-29 to 1944-10-11. The Billboard's 1944-10-14 review of the Oct. 7 afternoon performance doesn't mention Wini, but does name singers Rosita David and Marie.
  • Ms Johnson is not mentioned in The Billboard's review of the Oct. 7 afternoon show at the Downtown in Chicago, nor in The Milwaukee Journal's review of the Riverside, but both comment on new vocalist Rosita David's performances instead.20, 21
  • Billy Rowe's Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1944-09-30 p.13 announced "Wini Johnson has moved out of the female vocalist spot with Duke Ellington's aggregation, and Marie Ellington has gone out to Detroit to take it over..."
  • Wini is named in Minneapolis Morning Tribune ads 1944-10-12 and 1944-10-13 for the RKO Orpheum in Minneapolis, but not in subsequents ads. These subsequent ads were smaller, however, and don't mention the other acts in Ellington's show either. Wini is not mentioned in the review of the show in The Milwaukee Journal 1944-10-21.
  • Doris Calvin's gossip column in The Cleveland Gazette 1944-12-02 p.2, s.2 says "Duke Ellington, whose Carnegie Hall concert, the third is December 19th, plays the Apollo first...As vocalist, Wini Johnson will take over..." I have not found anything to corroborate any appearance by Wini with the band this month.
  • Wini Johnson's life after Ellington

    Who was Wini Brown?

    Wini Brown is pictured on three album covers, including the album she made with Cootie Williams.

    (click to enlarge)

    Simply comparing pictures of Wini Johnson and Wini Brown shows they were not the same person:

    (Click to enlarge)

    Miss Brown was about ten years younger than Wini Johnson, born in 1927 or 1928 and graduating from Englehart High School in Chicago. Her singing career began with what seems to have been a short sojourn with the Eddie Mallory orchestra under the name Annabella. She joined Lionel Hampton's band at age 18 in February 1946 as Winnie or Wini Brown.

    Winnie Brown sang with Hampton until mid-1948, leaving to marry his baritone sax player, Charlie Fowlkes. She entered into a recording contract with National in 1948, then in 1949 with Columbia Records.

    A detailed biography of Wini Brown and her recording history is posted in Marv Goldberg's Yesterday's Memories Rhythm & Blues Party website. Mr. Goldberg found little information about her after 1961, but suggests she died in 1978.

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