Virgil Lewis Johnson, popular singer and public school administrator, was born in Cameron, Texas, on December 29, 1935. He moved to Lubbock with his parents when he was a small child, and he sang in the youth choir at New Hope Baptist Church. Johnson was inspired by vocal groups he heard on the jukebox and performed with a local group while attending Dunbar High School. After graduation, he attended Bishop College, where he sang in a group called The Dynatones. He earned a degree in education. Later he added studies in counseling and school administration at Texas Tech University.
During his time as an English teacher in Odessa at Blackshear Junior High School, he organized some students into a vocal group known as The Velvets and sang with them locally for school events. Popular music singer Roy Orbison heard them on an Odessa radio station and recommended the group to Monument Records at Nashville in 1960. With Johnson as lead singer, The Velvets signed a recording contract and cut several songs at RCA in Nashville. Their greatest hit, “Tonight (Could Be the Night),” reached No. 26 on Billboard in 1961. The Velvets later gained recognition as among the top ten doo-wop groups “of all time,” and Johnson became the first African American honored on the West Texas Walk of Fame for entertainers in 1994.
When the doo-wop style became less popular and the group disbanded by 1966, Johnson resumed his education career at Dunbar High School (later renamed Dunbar-Struggs High School) in Lubbock as a teacher and athletic director. He later became principal at Alderson Junior High School and then at Estacado High School, where he led with firmness and a sense of humor. Beginning in 1984 he served as principal of Dunbar High School; he retired in 1993. That same year the Lubbock Classroom Teachers Association named him Administrator of the Year.
During his career as an educator he also refereed basketball games and served as an officer of the state officials organization. After retirement he became “V. J. the deejay” for KDAV radio in Lubbock. He also performed a few shows in the city. In 2008 Johnson was named one of Lubbock’s 100 most influential people by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Virgil and his wife Ida Delois Johnson, a teacher, had a son, Patrick Deon Johnson. The Johnsons played active roles in New Hope Baptist Church. Virgil Johnson died on February 24, 2013.