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[Pacific Lutheran Scene]

Leadership and Service

Johnson joins prestigious New York Pops administration

By Laura Gifford '00

[image] James Johnson '85
New York Pops Executive Director James Johnson ’85 (right) poses with Pops founder and conductor Skitch Henderson.

James Johnson ’85 credits three people at PLU with guiding him into a profession in arts administration. All of them, coincidentally, are named David, and all three would be proud of the heights to which Johnson has climbed in the music business. In November, the New York Pops tapped Johnson for its position of executive director.

Johnson majored in music while at PLU, but he also took courses in business administration, computer science and English. “I was interested in being more than a performer,” he said.

During Johnson’s second year at PLU, professor David Hoffman and music department chair David Robbins encouraged him to pursue the business side of the arts. Fellow student David Gatewood, the hall director of Johnson’s residence hall, gave him further encouragement, introducing Johnson to the arts administration graduate program at Southern Methodist University. Johnson entered the SMU program after a stint at the Pantages Centre for the Performing Arts in Tacoma (now the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts).

Graduate school deepened Johnson’s interest in music and dance, and reinforced his conviction that his talents were best served in behind-the-scenes work. After graduation in 1987, he headed to New York City to begin his career.

“The capital of what’s going on in the performing arts is New York City,” Johnson said. “That’s not to say good things aren’t going on all over, but especially for a young person coming out of graduate school, it’s been an exciting experience.”

Founded by Skitch Henderson in 1983, the New York Pops is the largest independent pops orchestra in the United States. Before joining the Pops, Johnson served as director of operations for the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, one of the premiere chamber orchestras in the country. Both the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the New York Pops perform regularly at Carnegie Hall. According to Johnson, it was an easy decision to make the move.

“My aspiration was to be an executive director,” Johnson said. “It’s a great opportunity to work with someone as wonderful and masterful as Skitch Henderson.”

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