Johnson, Frederic H. [Keg] (1908–1967)

By: Bradley Shreve

Type: Biography

Published: December 5, 2006

Updated: September 25, 2015

Jazz trombonist Keg Johnson was born Frederic Homer Johnson in Dallas on November 19, 1908, the son of a choir director. Along with his better-known brother, Budd Johnson, he began his musical development under his father's supervision before studying with Portia Pittman, daughter of Booker T. Washington.

By Johnson's teenage years he had settled on the trombone as his instrument of choice, and with his brother he began playing in such Dallas-area bands as the Blue Moon Chasers and Ben Smith's Music Makers. During the day Keg worked with his father at the local Studebaker factory to supplement his music earnings. Later he and Budd joined up with Gene Coy's Amarillo-based group, the Happy Black Aces, and toured the Southwest. In the late 1920s the two brothers moved to Kansas City, where they landed spots in various bands.

In 1930 Keg left for Chicago and joined Louis Armstrong's orchestra. He toured and recorded his first solo under Armstrong on the album Basin Street Blues. In 1933 he headed to New York and played with Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter. The following year he joined Cab Calloway, whose band played regularly at the Cotton Club. After fifteen years with Calloway, Keg Johnson moved to Los Angeles, changed careers, and began decorating and painting houses. His absence from music was brief, however, for by the late 1950s he was playing again in New York. He reunited with his brother to record the album Let's Swing before joining forces with Ray Charles in 1961. Johnson died on November 8, 1967, while on tour with Charles's orchestra.

John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street (London: Bloomsbury Book Shop, 1970; American ed., New York and Philadelphia: Chilton, 1972). Leonard G. Feather, The Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Horizon, 1955; rev. ed., New York: Bonanza, 1960). Colin Larkin, Encyclopedia of Popular Music (London: Guinness, 1992; 3d ed., New York: Muze, 1998). Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).


  • Music
  • Genres (Jazz)
  • Peoples
  • African Americans


  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas
  • North Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Bradley Shreve, “Johnson, Frederic H. [Keg],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 27, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 5, 2006
September 25, 2015

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