A Midsummer Night with DeAnna Tisdale Johnson and Friends

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DeAnna Esther Marie is named for her aunts, grandmother, and great grandmother. Both Canton and Jackson, MS lay claim to her, having been born in Canton and raised in Jackson. 

DeAnna embraced classical music at an early age. Her father, the late Charles W. Tisdale, placed a cassette recording of classical music in her crib every night as he sang along until she fell asleep, most times without a whimper. 

At two years old, out of nowhere, she began singing to Betty Wright’s “No Pain, No Gain” which was playing over the intercom in the grocery store. This served as a rehearsal for her first concert before an esteemed audience consisting of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Big Bird, Winnie the Pooh, a few other celebrity stuffed animals, and members of the Cabbage Patch family. 

As a first time student at The Adhiambo School, an independent, Afrocentric learning hub in West Jackson, DeAnna was always enthusiastic to participate in school programs, especially when it came time to rise from her chair to sing. Worship service at any church was no different. 

She continued her love of music in the Blackburn Middle School and Murrah High School APAC music programs, as well as summer music camp at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on the advice of her biggest fan, her Auntie Anne. 

DeAnna received a five-year scholarship to Tougaloo College, and became the first student to complete the rigorous curriculum in four years, graduating in 2008. 

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music/Vocal Performance from Tougaloo College, as well as winning the top prize for literary writing and graduating magna cum laude, she took a two-year hiatus to process the loss of her beloved father and to determine next steps. 

In 2010, she enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi where she excelled. In 2012, she received the Master of Music (M.M.) degree in Vocal Performance, also graduating magna cum laude. 

After taking a long, deep breath, DeAnna relocated to the East Coast to accept entrance into the Boston Conservatory, one of nation’s finest performing arts schools. She received a Graduate Performance Diploma in Vocal Performance from there in May 2014. Kathryn Wright was her vocal instructor. 

DeAnna’s decision to remain on the East Coast to pursue a career in classical music was thwarted by the lingering effects of the Boston Marathon bombing, a brutal winter, and missing her Southern roots. On the advice of her mother, Alice Thomas-Tisdale, she returned to Jackson to continue the legacy of her father as associate publisher of the family-owned African-American newspaper, The Jackson Advocate. 

That same year, she met and fell in love with Andre Johnson II and his enormous family in Canton, MS. They married in 2016 and have continued to worship at the Ark of Safety Ministry in Canton under the leadership of their uncle, Rev. John Woodard.

Today, as much as when she was a little girl, DeAnna’s burning desire is to sing beautiful songs, regardless of origin or language, and to continue exploring the title of her college thesis: “The Shift from Socialistic Ideas to Capitalism Displayed in the Evolution of African-American Music”. Her rationale statement was: The purpose of this research will be to show how the evolution of African-American music from the Negro Spirituals of Slavery to the Freedom Songs of the Civil Rights Movement to Hip Hop, display a shift from collective achievement to individual prosperity. 

“I want to research this topic because the effects of how African-American music shaped and will shape the ideas and practices of the African-American community are important for the development of generations to come,” she said.

 In past years, DeAnna has performed the role of the Forester’s Wife and covered the role of the Fox in Janacek’s opera The Cunning Little Vixen. She studied the role of Nannetta from Verdi’s Falstaff with the world-renowned Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance program. 

She has also covered Santuzza from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana at the University of Southern Mississippi. She has been in the chorus of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Puccini’s La Boheme with the University of Southern Mississippi and J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus with the Mississippi Opera. 

DeAnna sang with the Mississippi Opera in their 2009-2010 Champagne season as a soloist in The Best of Opera Choruses and as a chorus member in Die Fledermaus. During the summer of 2009, she traveled to Rome where she took part in the Opera Festival di Roma, a one-month school to train rising opera singers. 

She won 1st place in a regional NATS competition in November 2011. In July 2011, she performed in Los Angeles, California, at the 102nd Annual NAACP Convention during the Spingarn Awards. 

Since returning home in 2014, DeAnna has performed at numerous fundraising programs for local organizations and for her alma mater, Tougaloo College, as well as honor the legacies of fallen community stalwarts. She also performed and conducted master classes at Jackson Public Schools and directed a summer music camp at the request of Senator Sollie Norwood. 

Her most recent performances were fundraisers for the Mary Church Terrell Literary Club and the Laura Felts Women’s Missionary Society of Pearl Street AME Church. 

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 A Midsummer Night with DeAnna Tisdale Johnson and Friends

By Jackson Advocate News Service
June 30, 2024