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Ken Johnson: June 22, 1917 - March 18, 1941 - Britain's first black swing bandleader

Cafe de Paris in 1932 before the bomb
Cafe de Paris, 9th March 1941
Cafe de Paris, 9th March 1941
Cafe de Paris, 9th March 1941
Ken "Snake Hips" Johnson

Ken "Snake Hips" Johnson (June 22, 1917 - March 18, 1941) - Kendrick Reginald Huymans was born in Georgetown, British Guiana (Guyana). He was sent to Britain at the age of 15 by his parents, where he attended Sir William Borlase's Grammar School before studying medicine at Edinburgh University. Having gained an interest in dance, he sought lessons from American choreographer, Buddy Bradley. It was in dance work that he earned his nickname, 'Snakehips', from his "fluid and flexible style".

Johnson was invited to lead Leslie Thompson's band, before going on to start his own, called Ken Johnson and his Rhythm Swingers (later renamed The West Indian Orchestra), which played jazz and swing music. The band had a residency at the London nightclub Café de Paris . It was here on March 8, 1941, during the blitz, that two 50K landmines came through the Rialto roof straight onto the Café dance floor soon after the start of a performance. Eighty people died, including Johnson and most of his band. After pondering for some time as to where to bury him, it was decided that his remains should be placed at his old school, Sir William Borlase's Grammar School. They reside in the school chapel, where a panel is dedicated to him. Legend has it that at a certain time of day and a certain time of year sunlight will shine through a slit in his panel revealing the urn in which his ashes reside.

Ken Snakehips Johnson was Britain's first black swing bandleader. He was inspired by the sounds of the orchestras he heard on a trip to the United States. The material presented here was gathered together during April and May 2000 to satisfy the new-found curiosity about the life and times of this extraordinary man.

The material gathered here comes from a variety of sources and one of the original authors penned the following, "There are certain people who have been instrumental in researching and authenticating the life of Ken Johnson. I would like to express my sincere thanks and deep gratitude to Val Wilmer, Howard Rye, Jeff Green and Stephen Bourne for all the work they have done in bringing this story to a wider audience."

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