By Robert M. Marovich
JGM learned from Eric Clark that Harrison Johnson of “I’ve Decided to Make Jesus My Choice” fame passed away December 19, 2023, in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he was living at the time. He was 86.
Born December 12, 1937, Harrison “Bubba” Johnson grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, where he attended New Salem Baptist Church. Gospel music composer Lucie Eddie Campbell was Johnson’s English teacher when he attended Booker T. Washington High School.
As a teenager, Johnson moved with his family to Los Angeles. There, he played the organ and sometimes piano for a small Baptist church. He graduated from Fremont High School around 1955 and attended Los Angeles City College where he studied music. It was at LACC that Johnson said “I started paying attention to how much I loved gospel music.”
He parlayed his growing interest in gospel into serving as the musician for the Evangelistic Gospel Singers. He toured with Johnnie Allen and the Celestial Gospel Singers. In 1955, an LA disc jockey who Johnson remembered as Joe Matthews successfully convinced the young man to assemble a community choir. He even arranged for the choir to rehearse at his church, Victory Baptist, where the pastor was the Reverend Arthur Atlas Peters.
Starting small, the Los Angeles Community Choir soon expanded. “Everybody in Los Angeles who thought they wanted to sing came out to be a part of this group,” Johnson recalled. After about ten years, the Los Angeles Community Choir landed a recording contract with Savoy, where they recorded such classics as Johnson’s own compositions “Lord Help Me to Hold Out”—later made famous by James Cleveland’s cover—and his trademark song (and testimony), “I’ve Decided to Make Jesus My Choice.” The latter song put Johnson and his choir on the map and is #437 in the One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism hymnal.
The Los Angeles Community Choir signed with Nashboro/Creed in 1970 and released several singles and albums, including a re-recording of “I’ve Decided to Make Jesus My Choice.” Gospel artist Henry Jackson recorded with the choir at that time. While on the Nashville-based label’s roster, Johnson also was the studio piano accompanist for the Twenty-First Century Gospel Singers and Willie Neal Johnson and the Gospel Keynotes. He directed the Nashville City Wide Choir.