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A daguerreotype portrait of Black musician and composer Francis "Frank" Johnson.
A print based on a daguerreotype of Francis Johnson by artist Robert Douglass Jr. that was on display in Black Founders. courtesy of The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

What was the music of Philadelphia’s free Black community in the early 19th century? How does this music connect to the story of the Marquis de Lafayette’s return to the United States in 1824-1825? Join CUNY Hunter College's Tyler Diaz at the Museum for a live concert and discussion to learn how legendary Philadelphia bandleader Francis Johnson connects both of these stories, which were featured in the Museum’s recent Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia special exhibition and our new special exhibition, Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington’s Tent. Following the performance, a roundtable discussion will explore how Francis Johnson’s music and life story can be explored in educational settings.

Featured Performers
Tyler Diaz (Electric Guitar)
Joseph Stroppel (Tenor) 

Guest Speakers
Colin Roust (University of Kansas)
Morgan Lloyd (1838 Black Metropolis)

About Francis Johnson
Francis “Frank” Johnson was born in Philadelphia in 1792 and was well-known throughout the city as a talented fiddle player and virtuoso on the keyed bugle. In 1818, he became the first Black composer from Philadelphia to publish sheet music. He and his celebrated band of Black musicians performed for the Marquis de Lafayette’s tour of the United States in 1824 and the 1832 centenary celebrations for George Washington. They later became the first Americans to tour Europe, introducing popular European styles across the States upon their return. The Black musicians from this time formed a notable musical community akin to the Harlem Renaissance that would follow 100 years later. Johnson died on April 6, 1844. This concert marks the 180th anniversary of his death. 

This concert is presented in partnership with Mellon Public Humanities and Social Justice Scholars Program, 1838 Black Metropolis, and the Museum of the American Revolution. This program is generously supported by ¡Oye! Group.

  • Logo for Mellon Public Humanities and Social Justice Scholars Program at Hunter College in light violet with the MPHSJ abbreviation above it in red.
  • Logo for 1838 Black Metropolic with the font in beige over an auburn burnt orange square.
  • Logo for OYE features white bold text reading OYE Group overlaid on a black speech bubble.

Learn More

Silhouettes of Francis Johnson and his wife Helen  courtesy of The Met.
courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

The Music of Francis Johnson: A Soundtrack to Antebellum Black Philadelphia

Learn more about and listen to music written by Black composer and musician Francis Johnson, whose music was popular in the Revolutionary and Antebellum eras.
Read More
A recreated of an end of Washington's tent displayed with his camp bed and additional camp items.

Witness to Revolution: The Unlikely Travels of Washington's Tent

Now Open Through January 5, 2025
Witness to Revolution, now open through Jan. 5, 2025, brings to life the journey of George Washington’s tent from the Revolutionary War to an enduring symbol of the American republic.
Explore Exhibit
A father holds his child as they look at the Forten family tree in the Museum's Black Founders exhibit.

Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia

February 11 - November 26, 2023
Black Founders: The Forten Family of Philadelphia explored the story of James Forten and his descendants as they navigated the American Revolution and cross-racial relationships in Philadelphia to later become leaders in the abolition movement in the lead-up to the Civil War.
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