Jimmy Johnson devoted his entire career to the Disney organization and profoundly influenced the Disney approach to both publishing and consumer audio recordings. It is an influence felt by generations of kids who know “it’s time to turn the page when Tinker Bell rings her little bells, like this,” on vinyl discs where you “SEE the pictures, HEAR the record, READ the book.”
“It was Jimmy’s dedication and drive that really created the Walt Disney Records we know today,” songwriter and Disney Legend Richard M. Sherman once said. “Tutti Camarata’s creative vision combined with Jimmy’s ingenious ideas about marketing and how to utilize the Disney catalog really made the Disney record label a one-of-a-kind success story.”
James Alexander Johnson, Jr. joined The Walt Disney Studios fresh out of journalism school as an assistant in the Publicity Department in September of 1938. He was excited by the creative environment at Disney and thrilled by its bright future.
“Publicity had a management change, and Johnson faced termination,” it is reported in the book, Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records, “but he had been bitten by the Disney bug and searched for any job that would enable him to stay with the Company.”
Johnson wound up in Traffic, delivering mail on the Studio lot to destinations including the Animation Story Department, where he had hoped to end up. Instead, he was inexplicably transferred to Accounting, and shortly after was drafted into the Army. Upon his return from service, Jimmy returned to the Studio as assistant to the corporate secretary, a position to which he was elected in December 1950.
Roy O. Disney split Disney publications and merchandising that year, and asked Johnson to head the new publishing unit, as well as business affairs for the new Walt Disney Music Company, which Fred Raphael had established late in 1949. Jimmy handled the Disney Publications division worldwide until 1962, and was the editor of the Walt Disney magazine from 1956 through 1958.
Realizing that competing with the established Hollywood music concerns was both foolish and unnecessary, Johnson had a vision for the Music Company that focused on its core business—Disney stories, characters, and properties. He also shared Walt and Roy’s growing desire for ownership and control of the creative and business assets of the division, realizing that strict supervision of those areas was vital to both the maintenance and growth of the Disney name and reputation. Jimmy helped turn the Music Company profitable in 1954. Also in 1954, Jimmy was impressed by a composer and performer who submitted ‘The Pencil Song” for a proposed Disneyland TV episode. He was so pleased with the tune and its writer, Johnson brought future Disney Legend Jimmie Dodd on staff.
Jimmy became general manager of the Walt Disney Music Company in December 1958, and played a key role in the evolution of all Walt Disney music and record activities. He was vital in the establishment of the Buena Vista and Disneyland record labels, the Wonderland Music Company (BMI), and all related music publishing activities. He served as president of the Walt Disney Music Company from September 1970 until his retirement in March of 1975.
Jimmy Johnson passed away in January 1976.