Johnson studied harmony and music theory at the Armstrong High School in Washington. He played in 1941 at the Harlem Dictators 1942-43 and was a member of the band by Sabby Lewis in Boston and then played in a chapel of the U.S. Navy. After 1945, he worked for five years in Chicago, including in the band of R & B saxophonist Eddie Chamblee, before he became a member of the band by Earl Hines in 1951. After appearances with Tony Scott, Dorothy Donegan, Illinois Jacquet and Billy Bauer, and at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1957 with Gigy Grice and Donald Byrd, he worked in New York in the 1950s and 1960s as a sought studio musicians, with musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Paul Gonsalves, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Mose Allison and Sonny Stitt worked. He also worked occasionally as a singer and composer, and took albums as bandleader on. He wrote the arrangements to Fool That I Am and Too Soon to Know for Dinah Washington.