Obituary for Robert “BJ” Johnson

Robert Clifford Johnson (BJ) was born on July 16, 1948, in Alexandria, Minnesota to parents Ruth Fowlds Johnson and Clifford Conrad Johnson. He died on October 16th, 2019 in Northfield, Minnesota, with his family at his side after living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). BJ graduated from Jefferson High School in 1966 and continued his education at Concordia College in Moorhead. Upon graduation in 1971 he married Sigrid Nelson in Bismarck, North Dakota. Together they moved to Monticello, Minnesota, where he taught public school music while Sigrid pursued a Bachelor of Music degree at St. Cloud […]

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Robert Clifford Johnson (BJ) was born on July 16, 1948, in Alexandria, Minnesota to parents Ruth Fowlds Johnson and Clifford Conrad Johnson. He died on October 16th, 2019 in Northfield, Minnesota, with his family at his side after living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).

BJ graduated from Jefferson High School in 1966 and continued his education at Concordia College in Moorhead. Upon graduation in 1971 he married Sigrid Nelson in Bismarck, North Dakota. Together they moved to Monticello, Minnesota, where he taught public school music while Sigrid pursued a Bachelor of Music degree at St. Cloud State University. Upon completion of her degree in 1974, they moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Sigrid pursued graduate studies in vocal performance at the University of Michigan and earned a Master of Music degree. BJ worked at the university at the University Musical Society, the largest university concert series at the time.

In 1978, BJ was hired by St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, to manage the college’s music organizations, a great opportunity in the field of arts administration. His office was responsible for arranging domestic and international tours; facilitating the technical production of the internationally renowned St. Olaf Christmas Festival; and overseeing the commercial recording business (St. Olaf Records). Under his leadership 30 international concert tours by the St. Olaf Choir, St. Olaf Band and St. Olaf Orchestra in addition to annual domestic concert tours were successfully undertaken by these ensembles. The St. Olaf Christmas Festival has been a college annual holiday concert since 1912. First broadcast on television in 1975, the St. Olaf Christmas Festival has been a featured highlight of the holiday season on PBS since 1983 because of BJ’s collaborative efforts with Twin Cities Public Television. In 2005 and 2013, BJ was the catalyst in creating the two television Christmas specials that the St. Olaf Choir filmed at the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. Also because of his entrepreneurial vision, the 2007 and 2011 St. Olaf Christmas Festivals were streamed live in theaters throughout the United States.

In 1990 the College Music Tour Managers Association was founded by a group of college and university tour managers mainly from the Lutheran touring tradition but also came to include both religious and non religious schools. The initial founding and development of the organization came about with encouragement led by BJ Johnson, the then manager of music organizations at St. Olaf College. CMTMA’s first conference was held in 1990 at St. Olaf College and continues to be a vital force in arts management today. Annual membership varies each year between 30-40 schools and other arts organizations with over 100 organizations having participated over the years.

In 2014, Johnson was honored with an Emmy Award by the Upper Midwest Emmy Awards for his role in the PBS production of Christmas in Norway with the St. Olaf Choir filmed in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. Johnson was awarded the ACE award for lifetime achievement by the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) of Minnesota in 2015. In 2018 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the Alexandria School District in recognition and honor for significant distinction and achievement in arts administration at St. Olaf College.

Johnson is survived by his wife of 48 years, Sigrid (Nelson) Johnson, sons Peter Johnson, and Andrew Johnson (Sarah) and grandsons Soren Meilan, and Halvor Clifford, all of whom reside in the Twin Cities. He is also survived by a sister Karen Elizabeth Johnson of Maple Grove, Minnesota. He was preceded in death by his parents and sister Jane Huhn.

A memorial service will be held at Boe Memorial Chapel, Sunday, October 27th at 2:00pm. He is interred at Oaklawn Cemetery in Northfield.

In keeping with BJ’s commitment to providing St. Olaf student ensembles with the finest performance venues during concert tours, the family has requested that memorials be given to the Sigrid and Robert “BJ” Johnson Endowed Fund, established for that purpose, and mailed ℅ St. Olaf College, 1520 St. Olaf Ave., Northfield, MN 55057, Attn: Development Office.

Arrangements are with the Benson & Langehough Funeral Home. www.northfieldfuneral.com

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Funeral

October 27, 2019 - 2:00 PM

Boe Memorial Chapel - St. Olaf College
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7 Comments

  1. Paul Merlyn Peterson

    My deepest sympathy to Sigrid and family.
    I knew you both at Concordia singing in the concert choir junior and senior years and graduating with BJ.
    I taught high school vocal music in Albia Iowa for 33 years. I now direct two community choirs January through April. I am a farmer in NW IA and caregiver for my 100 year old father in his farm home.
    I cherish my memories with you Cobbers. You both were so so friendly and kind to me as I transferred from Waldorf (like Darwin Br. )
    My brother in law Bruce Teigland and his wife Karen really enjoyed traveling with you this recent past.
    Hopefully I can greet you next Sunday.
    May God be with you!
    Paul Peterson 1971

    Reply
  2. Pam & Tom Teorey

    Dear Sig and family,
    Tom and I are so saddened to get the news of BJ’s passing. My years knowing you guys at Concordia and then in Northfield were always filled with joy and laughter.
    It was special to witness the fabulous work you both provided for the fabulous music at St. Olaf.
    BJ was a friend, a genius in planning and promoting. He has left his signature by devoting his life in making a huge impact on the lives of so many….always with a smile and a hug. God’s love to you each day forward and our hugs to you across the miles.

    Reply
  3. Doug Bakken

    Sig and family. Our deepest sympathy to you and your children. You and Bob introduced both of us to the great music traditions at St. Olaf. The annual holiday concerts and the great Centennial trip to Norway were very special and deepened our religious lives. Blessings and thanks for sharing Bob with us for many years. Doug and Jackie Bakken.

    Reply
  4. Ken and Tolly Tessmer, Ev Tessmer

    So sorry about your loss of Bob Johnson, a neighbor across the street in Alexandria originally. Nice guy. You have our sympathy.

    Reply
  5. Sandra Wenner

    Dear Sig
    Im so sorry for your loss .Bob was always good to me and friendly when I would meet him places.I worked in the Post office at St Olaf and enjoyed knowing you both.
    Sandy Wenner

    Reply
  6. Carol Barnett

    Dear Sig, I was so sorry to hear of BJ’s passing, and to learn that you and he had been living with ALS. Heartfelt condolences, and may many, many warm memories and the love of family and friends be a comfort.

    Reply
  7. Peter and Michelle Smith

    Sig, it was with pefound sadness that I read of BJ’s passing. He was in every way the embodiment of what I think of as the STO spirit: unfailing kindness, a love of the music and and understanding of its impact both on those who sing and play and certainly on those who hear and appreciate.

    Over a range of years, he was unfailingly kind to me and was always generous in helping me when I needed a favor of one sort or another. So often he could have asked me why I couldn’t get dates and tickets straight, but he never, ever did. No doubt he got off the phone and thought…where’d STO get this guy.

    I am grateful for him, his life, and his personal and musical witness to the Gospel.

    His memory is blessed to me, and to countless others who had the pleasure of knowing him.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    Reply

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