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'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:
- Winifred Claudia (Wini or Winnie) Johnson was born 1917-12-03 and named in honour of an aunt's boyfriend, Claude Winfrey. She came from a family of high achievers.
- Her father was "Monk" Johnson, a baseball player for the McConnell Giants, Grand Central Red Caps and Lincoln Giants, a basketball player for the St. Christopher's, the Independents and the Puritans, who was a pool hustler, card shark, crapshooter, Cotton Club waiter, and ex-convict (he and Cotton Club owner Owney Madden were prisoners in Sing Sing at the same time.
- Wini's mother's name was Gertrude McGinnis, nee DeGroat
- Wini's siblings were:
- Howard Eugene ("Stretch") Johnson, born in Orange, N.J. 1915-01-30. Howard, the eldest, became a Cotton Club dancer after Wini, and was an activist and a member of the Communist Party until 1956. Passing his high school equivalency test in 1959, he enrolled in Columbia College in 1960. In 1968, he became director of the "Upward Bound Program" to help disadvantaged youth from New York enter college, and he became a professor of sociology, teaching black studies, at SUNY's New Paltz campus.
- Robert Quentin (Bobby) Johnson born 1921-01-27
- Wesley Williams Johnson, born 1923-03-26
- Shirley Gertrude Johnson (d.o.b.?)
- The family moved to New York in 1932 (source: New York Times obituary)
- Wini's paternal grandparents were George Gaither and Lethia Goode (aka Lethia Johnson). The family name Johnson was taken to honour Eugene Johnson, who looked out for George's family while George was away at war.
- Lethia's brother James Anderson founded Amsterdam News.
- Stretch described his sister as "a Cotton Club dancer who later went on to sing with the Duke Ellington Orchestra." He also wrote:
'My next connection with the Cotton Club came through my sister Winnie, who danced at local affairs sponsored by social clubs that wanted a floor show... Bill "Bojangles" Robinson had heard about Winnie's talent and offered her a week at the Alhambra Theater with him if she could do his routine. Winnie learned the routine in no time–she had what might be called a photographic memory in her muscles and could reproduce steps within two or three tries if they were complicated; once was enough for the simpler combinations–and she got the week's work. Elida Webb, choreograher and talent scout for the Cotton Club, heard about Winnie from Bill Robinson and hired her for the chorus of the revue "Flying Colors" from which she would go to the Cotton Club for more stable employment...
My sister Winnie was one of the most beautiful of the beautiful array of feminine pulchritude. As a group, they had their choice of the most eligible Black males on the planet... Some of the women had multiple lovers. My sister Winnie numbered among her lovers, and sometimes husbands, Bill Robinson, Joe Louis, "Chuck" Green, Adam Clayton Powell, Canada Lee, Duke Ellington, and the penultimate husband before her last marriage to Dr. Middleton Lambright, the disastrous Stepin Fetchit...'
- Howard and Wini's aunt Tina "went with" Willie "the Lion" Smith and James P. Johnson.
Wini Johnson's career before Ellington
- This photo collage is from Winnie Johnson's life before she joined Ellington. Click the image to enlarge it.
- Far from being unknown to Ellington when he hired her, Wini was well known in the entertainment world of New York in the 1930s and 1940s, with many mentions in the newspapers as "Winnie Johnson."
- The Brooklyn Standard Union, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1925-04-21 p.12, names Winnie Johnson as one of four little girls, under 7, dancing at a social club dance.
- Jet Magazine's 1980-11-20 announcement of Wini's death said she performed in Flying Colors, a 1932 revue which was the first Broadway show with black and white girls in the same chorus line.
- Her portrait appears in The Pittsburgh Courier, 1933-07-15 p.4 under the title Winsome Winnie. The caption refers to the Cotton Club.
- The New York Age, New York, N.Y., 1934-02-10 p.9 reported she and another Cotton Club dancer performed in an extravaganza at the Renaissance Ballroom.
- Winnie Johnson and Lena Horne were named in an advertisement in The New York Age, 1934-07-07, p.4 for the Harlem Opera House
- A week later, The New York Age, 1934-07-14 p.4 reported she "has a pleasing face and figure but her voice doesn't register."
- The New York Age, 1935-05-04, p.4 reported Wini was being groomed for an act with tap dancer Ralph Brown.
- The New York Age, 1935-07-04 p.9 describes her as "the sixteen-year-old dancing star of Leonard Sillman's 'New Faces' in a seven week run at the Vanderbilt Theatre," living at 219 Edgecombe Avenue, and "a graduate of the Cotton Club dancing ensemble of 1935." Her brothers Stretch and Bobby were also in the show, and the review said Winnie had been praised unanimously by Broadway critics Ed Sullivan, Robert Garland, Burns Mantle, John Anderson and Eileen Creelman.
- The Billy Rowe in Harlem column, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1935-10-19 p.6 s.2 said Winnie Johnson and her little brother Bobby were rehearsing a new act.
- New York Post, 1936-05-20 p.11, reviewed "New Faces," naming the principals which included Winnie and her brothers and Imogene Coca. This is also reported in The New York Age, 1936-06-06 p.8
- The Pittsburgh Courier, 1937-03-20 p.13 carries two photos of Wini on the Apollo Theatre stage, one with her brother Stretch titled Brother and Sister Warblers and the other "Mike Holds To Terors [sic] For Winnie. P.19 says "radio executives are eyeing Winnie Johnson for a script on a major commercial which, if it sells, will make the Johnson lassie one of the bigger theatre attractions."
- The Oswego Palladium-Times, Oswego-Fulton, N.Y., 1937-05-14 p.10 carries an ad for the Dante Aleghieri Hall dancing contest grand finals, with music by The Harlem Flashes featuring Winnie Johnson
- An ANP gossip item in the 1937-06-04 California Eagle, p. 4-B, says Stepin Fetchit 'thinks of nothing these days but of his coming marriage to the girl who burst forth in that great musical, "New Faces."'
- An ad for Ellington at the Apollo in The New York Age, 1937-06-19 p.9 has WINNIE & BOBBIE JOHNSON And Brother STRETCH on the bill. The plug says "... Leonard Harper is putting his best foot foremost to surround Duke Ellington and his band with a fitting show. The revue cast will include Ivy Anderon, Three Flying Sullys, Savoy Ballroom's Lindy Hop Champions, Jack Whitney, Winnie and Bobbie Johnson and their Brother Stretch, Pigmeat, Mason and Baskette and the sixteen dancing Harperettes.
- Billy Rowe's Harlem Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1937-06-19 p.20 mentions their relationship.
- The Pittsburgh Courier, 1937-07-24 p.20 includes Winnie Johnson in a revue due to open at the Eltinge Theater headlined by Pigmeat Markham and Jimmie Basquetta.
- Winnie and Stepin Fetchit eloped in October 1937, and she gave birth to their son in March 1938. (Sources: Champ Clark, Shuffling to Ignominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Fetchit, iUniverse, Inc., New York, Lincoln, Shanghai, pp.58-61; Cleveland Gazette, Cleveland, Ohio, 1937-10-23 p.1; ANP wirestory, Negro Star, Wichita, Kans. 1938-06-03 p.3
- Billy Rowe's Harlem Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1938-01-15, p.20 announced Winnie Johnson Fetchit was expecting a baby ("expects Sir Stork") about April.
- An ad in the 1938-02-11 Syracuse Journal,Syracuse, N.Y.,p.28 has Winnie Johnson, Formerly of Harlem Nite Club, appearing at a night club named Alberts.
- An ad in the Syracuse Herald, 1938-03-25 p.28 has Winnie Johnson, Singer and Dancer, Direct from Harlem, as a special feature at Roderick's Hotel in East Syracuse.
- The Pittsburgh Courier 1938-06-18 p.20 reported Stepin Fetchit visited New York "last week" to see his pretty wife, the former Winnie Johnson, and his infant son, Donald Martin Perry. It was his first glimpse at his new son. He had flown in when his show in Kansas City folded, and he flew out to Chicago again.
- The Pittsburgh Courier 1938-07-28 p.24 carried a photo of Winnie Johnson Fetchit pushing her baby in a carriage.
- Billy Rowe's Harlem Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1938-09-03, p.11 says 'Winnie Johnson Fetchit,who is just as cute as she has always been, is making a theatrical comeback via the Cotton Club chorus line, the gang doesn't believe there's a riff, as the weekly check for Winnie and the baby never misses the mail.'
- Winnie Johnson (Mrs. Stepin Fetchit) and two other Cotton Club girls are pictured in the The Pittsburgh Courier, 1938-10-08 p.13 under the heading Work and Beauty Go hand in Hand.
- The Pittsburgh Courier,Pittsburgh. Penn., 1939-08-19 p.5 includes Winnie in a collage of photos of members of the Negro Actors' Guild taken during a boat cruise.
- The Pittsburgh Courier, 1940-06-13 p.3 includes her photo and says she placed third in its 1940 popularity contest.
- The Pittsburgh Courier, 1940-10-05 p.5 carries two street photos of Winnie Johnson. One is by herself, the outher it with four other "lovelies." The caption says they are on 125th Street and the marquee of the Apollo Theatre is in the background. They were to dance in a production at the West End theatre opening Friday.
- The Pittsburgh Courier, 1941-02-01 p.21 carried a Jan. 30 review of the musical, "Tan Manhattan," at the Howard Theatre in Washington. Winnie Johnson was one of the cast singled out for praise.
- "Tan Manhattan" then opened at the Apollo in New York on Feb. 7 (sources: The New York Age, 1941-02-01 p.4, 1941-02-08 p.4, 1941-02-15, p.4 )
- The New York Age, 1941-03-29 p.10 reported Wini was in another Apollo musical, Tan Town Topics. Snelson's column about it on the same page names Wini and her brothers Flash and Dash. Snelson also mentions Wini's little son, Donald.
- 1941-08-23 The Pittsburgh Courier,Pittsburgh. Penn., p.24 carries a picture of Wini at a horse show, saying she has deserted her career to join the throng at the Show.
- Billy Rowe's Notebook, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1942-04-11 p.20 announced Winnie and several others auditioned for a forthcoming Jeanette McDonald flicker, but the part went to Ethel Waters.
- Dan Dietz, in The Complete Book of 1940s Broadway Musicals, reported Wini and Bob Johnson were in the cast of Harlem Cavalcade, which played the Ritz Theatre from May 1 to May 23, 1942. The show was directed by Ed Sullivan and Noble Sissle and produced by Sullivan. The show was announced in The Pittsburgh Courier, 1942-04-25 p.20 with a photo collage, including a picture of Wini. The review in Brooklyn Eagle, 1942-05-02 p.14 says "Wini Johnson turns up in this as a neat dancer, stepping with her brother Bob."
- The New York Sun, 1942-06-12 p.3 and the Pittsburgh Courier 1942-06-20 p.21 reported Stepin Fetchit was ordered by a court to pay Winnie Johnson $12 a week child support. Rowe's column in the PC 1942-05-16 said the "case was tossed out of court and is being re-written for a later hearing."
- Billy Rowe's Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1942-09-05, p.21 was giving up show business for higher education with a private tutor in Chicago.
- The Pittsburgh Courier 1942-12-05 p.20 reported "Winnie Johnson, who has given up the stage for a lawyers's office, came to town for a breather last week and took her son Donald back to the Windy City to keep her company."
- Billy Rowe's Note Book in The Pittsburgh Courier, 1943-02-27, p.20 said she had completed her studies in Chicago and "those shapely legs that used to parade up and down the Cotton Club floor are now pushed under a desk in a local rationing board office."
- Early to Bed was a Broadway musical written by Fats Waller which played at the Broadhurst Theater from June 1943 to May 1944. Billy Rowe's Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1943-09-25 p.19 said Winnie Johnson made her debut in the Early to Bed cast in a specially-written part, but Variety 1944-02-16 p.37 described Wini as Jeni LeGon's understudy.
- Billy Rowe's Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1943-10-30 p.19 mentions her again.
- Wini left "Early to Bed" to play opposite Canada Lee in the Broadway production "South Pacific" at the end of 1943. It folded after only a few performances and the Brooklyn Eagle 1944-01-30 reported she returned to "Early to Bed."
Wini Johnson's career with Ellington
- These photos cover Winnie Johnson's months with the Ellington orchestra. Click the collage to enlarge it.
- Leonard Feather's column in The Melody Maker and Rhythm, 1944-11-25 p.2, reported "Winnie [sic] Johnson has been ill, and Duke now has three other girls with the band! They are Joya Sherrill, ... Marie Ellington ... and Rosita Davis.
- Wini Johnson, who married Dr. Lambright in 1945, should not be confused with singer Wini Brown who sang with Cootie Williams' orchestra in the 1950s and is mistakenly identified as Ellington's singer in DESS 2011/4. Both ladies are mentioned frequently in Jet Magazine during the 1950s and 1960s. See also the Wini Brown tribute site where the author makes it clear they aren't the same lady.
- (1) New Desor Vol. II
- (2) Variety 1944-02-16 p.37
- (3) Frendl, Brown & Co.: Duke Ellington, Inc., Statements at March 31, 1944, SI-NMAH DEC301 Series 3G, Box 112, Folder 9
- (4) Akron Beacon Journal, Akron, Ohio, 1944-02-17 p.4
- (5)The Melody Maker and Rhythm 1944-03-18
- (6) Champ Clark, Shuffling to Ignominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Fetchit, iUniverse, Inc., New York, Lincoln, Shanghai, pp.58-61
- (7) MIMM p.224
- (8) Barry Ulanov, Duke Ellington, Creative Age Press, 1946, and Da Capo Press, 1975, pp.271-272
- (9) Cleveland Gazette, Cleveland, Ohio, 1937-10-23 p.1
- (10) Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1944-01-30 p.27
- (11) ANP wirestory, Negro Star, Wichita, Kans. 1938-06-03 p.3 (re birth)
- (12) Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1944-06-04 p.25
- (13) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh, Penn., 1944-06-12 p.24
- (14) The Springfield Daily Republican, Springfield, Mass.
- 1944-06-12 p.7
- 1944-06-13 p.8
- (15) Rochester Times-Union, Rochester, N.Y. 1944-06-24 p.7
- (16) Variety, 1944-08-19
- (17) The Canton Repository, Canton, Ohio
- 1944-09-07 p.14
- 1944-09-08 p.16
- (18) The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, Ohio
- 1944-09-07 p.B-3
- 1944-09-10 p.3-F
- 1944-09-11 p.14
- 1944-09-12 p.A-11
- (19)Variety House Reviews, 1944-09-27 p.40
- (20) The Billboard, 1944-10-14 p.25
- (21) The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, Wisc. 1944-10-21 p.6
- (22) Pittsbrugh Courier, Pittsburgh, Penn.
- 1944-02-19 p.15
- 1944-07-01 p.13
- (23) Stratemann p.256
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).
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, ellingtonia.com [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
- This collage has photos of Winnie after she left the Ellington orchestra. Click the image to enlarge it.
- Billy Rowe's Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1947-07-12 p.16 mentions Winnie Johnson Lambright in Cleveland is endowed with that old Southern hospitality.
- Billy Rowe's Note Book, The Pittsburgh Courier, 1947-08-02 p.16 says Winnie is visiting friends in Harlem.
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer 1951-12-30 p.3-D says "Dr. Lambright and his wife, Winifred, have a 13-year-old son, Donald, a student at Empire Junior High, who is showing promise as a golfer and track star."
- A gossip column in The New York Age 1952-04-26 p.16 mentions Mrs. Winnie Lambright, wife of a Cleveland doctor was featured "last week" as one of America's best dressed women
- The New York Age 1953-06-06 p.6 says "Winnie Johnson Lambright is due in from Cleveland most any day now."
- The New York Age Defender 1954-09-04 p.17 says Winnie and her husband, Dr. Lambright, invited the columnist to say at their home if the Cleveland Indians win the World's Series. Wini was vacationing in Cape Cod when she spoke with the columnist."
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer 1962-05-07 p.47 reports David Appel, age 20, stopped off in Cleveland to see his aunt and uncle, Dr. and Mrs. Middleton H. Lambright, 1149 East Boulevard.
- On April 5, 1969, Donald Lambright, son of Wini and Stepin Fetchit, adopted son of Dr. Lambright, shot at cars as he was drove along a Pennsylvania Highway, then killed his ex-wife who was in the car with him, before taking his own life. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported he killed three and wounded 17. Other newspapers gave different numbers and one said another victim died later.
Reports in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, 1969-04-06 p.7-A and 1969-04-07 pp.1 and 4-A said Donald was adopted by Dr. Lambright at age 8, soon after he and Wini moved to Cleveland. Dr. Lambright reportedly said Donald had threatened Wini's life about 10 days earlier, but she denied it.
The April 7 story gives Wini's name as Mrs. Winifred Lee of 10843 Drexler Avenue N.E., presumably in Cleveland. Jet Magazine, 1969-04-24, reported the tragedy, and says she had divorced Dr. Lambright and was now separated from her latest husband, George Lee, a Cleveland Post Office contracts compliance officer.
- Billy Rowe's Note Book, Chicago Metro News, 1980-02-02 p.17 said "That lovely Winnie Johnson, one of the survivors of the original Cotton Club, and a marriage to Stepin Fetchit, is in the Hosp. for Joint Diseases." His column 1980-03-15 p.21 reported she was out of the hospital after a serious operation.
- Billy Rowe's Note Book, Chicago Metro News, 1980-11-01 p.20:
'SO LONG LADY----Winnie Johnson, whose dancing feet and eyes captured attention for Harlem as a member of the famous glamour beauties of the legendary Cotton Club, has paid life's final debt. She was one of a kind of purpose and personality. Our heart is sheathed in sorrow because for use [sic] there is no tomorrow to bath [sic] in the warmth of her smile.---STAY LOOSE.'
- Jet Magazine, 1980-11-20 p.34 reported Winifred "Winnie" Johnson died in North General Hospital in Manhattan at age 62. It reported she performed in a 1932 revue Flying Colors, the first Broadway show with Black and White girls in the same chorus line. It said her marriages to Stepin Fetchit (Lincoln Perry) and Dr. Lambright ended in divorce, and that she was survived by brothers Howard, Bobby and Wesley and sister Shirley Banfield.
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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