In the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s, he was one of the most in-demand drummers in New York, appearing on numerous recordings and working steadily in the studio.
He started working professionally in 1941 and joined Sabby Lewis’s band in Boston in 1942. From 1944 to 1945, he was in the military, playing in a navy band. This was followed by five years of freelancing in Chicago, before he joined the Earl Hines’ band until 1953.
Stints with Dorothy Donegan and Illinois Jacquet followed, then Johnson became a busy session musician, playing and recording with big names such as Coleman Hawkins, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery and Sonny Stitt.
As well as appearing on other artists’ albums, Johnson recorded four of his own as leader – Johnson’s Whacks, Osie’s Oasis, Swingin’ Sounds, The Happy Jazz of Osie Johnson – and A Bit of the Blues as a singer.
This rare footage of Johnson is taken from 1957 TV show The Sound of Jazz. Here he joins Thelonious Monk and Ahmed Abdul-Malik on ‘Blue Monk’.