Shirley Johnson grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. immersed in her Croatian heritage. At the age of ten she began her accordion studies. Throughout her childhood she performed music and dances as a member of various Tamburitza groups. Shirley played prim on the album “Croatians, Dances They Dance,” produced by the Duquesne University Tamburitzans Institute of Folk Arts. (DU-TAM EH-101.) College took her to North Carolina. As a member of the Duke University Chorale she had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall and Disney World. In 1979 Shirley traveled to Czechoslovakia with the Pittsburgh Area Slovaks. There she accompanied them on accordion at folk festivals in Detva and Senec as well as on Czechoslovak TV and radio.
After college she began dancing international folk-dances and became acquainted with the music of other European cultures. Thanks to The East European Folklife Center, which sponsors workshops devoted to Balkan music, Shirley learned techniques specific to these countries from expert accordionists and singers.
While living in Durham, North Carolina, Shirley directed the women’s folk group “Djevojke,” was a member of the German Oktoberfest band “Holzhackern,” and sang in seven productions produced by the Triangle Opera Theatre. She also played accordion for the North Carolina Theatre’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” She studied voice with Professor Martha Flowers.
From 1992 to 1994, living in Rome, Italy, Shirley sang with the “Coro Misto” of “L’Accademia della Filarmonica,” performing throughout Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica, Italian radio and TV, and at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II’s “Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust.”
MOVE TO AUSTIN, TX Since moving to Austin, Texas in 1996 she has performed in concerts, on radio and TV, in clubs, restaurants, festivals, assisted living facilities, and private parties.
In the summer of 2005, Shirley produced her second CD: “Where to Now? Folk Music from many European Lands.” (VJP046) In March, 2006 Ms. Johnson presented a workshop on “Balkan Accordion Styles” at the National Accordion Association Convention in Dallas, TX and again in September of that year at the Wilmington Accordion Festival in Delaware. Later that year she performed music from her Croatian heritage at the San Antonio International Accordion Festival.
She has performed for various folk dance clubs in Texas, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, PA. She co-chaired and taught the Camp Band at the 2003 Texas Camp, put on by the Texas International Folk Dancers. Since 2010, Ms. Johnson has been a beloved singing teacher at Texas Camps. Since Covid – 19, she has performed via Zoom for various online International Folk Dance camps and parties.
In spring of 2009 Shirley was the accordionist for the Austin Lyric Opera and University of Texas Butler School of Music production of “La Curandera.” In summer of 2012 Ms. Johnson was the accordionist in “The City Theatre Company” production of “Caberet.” In August, 2013 she produced a concert which featured world class accordionists Mario Pedone, Martina Mai Li. In November of that same year she produced a concert with World Championship Accordionist Cory Pesaturo. Shirley traveled to Vermont in 2015 to present an accordion workshop and perform at the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington and The Whammy Bar in Calais.
She has been a guest accordionist for other artists, on their’ CDs, including Hugo King’s (Leopold) “Presque Le Soir,” as well as for Scott Morgan Biggs’s 2005 short film “Hills Like White Elephants.”
Some of the musical groups Shirley has performed with:
With “Oliver Rajamani in his Mondsee Orchestra” at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, and at One World Theatre.
The Indie Rock band, “The Invincible Czars,” including a showcase at the 2004 South by Southwest Music Festival And at Emo’s in Austin.
“Actin’ the Maggot” Celtic Rock Band, performing at BD Riley’s and Opal Divine.
“Djamberry Caravan,” with appearances at the Butterfly Bar, Casa de Luz, the Whip In, and the Firehouse Lounge.
“The Yiddish Cowboys,” a Klezmer band.
PERFORMING WITH NEFESH
In November, 2011, Shirley had the opportunity to perform with the Grammy award winning Bulgarian Kaval Master, Theodosii Spassov at the Plaza Arts Center in Dallas, TX. During rehearsals for this performance she met Michelle Alany and soon after became a member of “Michelle Alany and Nefesh Joykestra” (now known as “Michelle Alany and The Mystics”) and has recorded on 2 CDS with this band Notable performances with this ensemble are at the Jewish Community Center Austin, Austin Jewish Film Festival, 2015 and 2016 Sephardic Crossroads, and a tour in Spain in the summer of 2016. Performances on that tour include Liber-Arte in Madrid; Arca Da Noe; Cafe UF in Vigo; Cova Celtica and Repichoca in A Coruna; Rubicon in Santander; Albergue Zaragoza Hostel; TerraPlana in Porto, Portugal; and at La Gramola as well as for the Feito Man Festival in Santiago de Compostela.
CURRENT PROJECTS Shirley currently performs in Central Texas with:
“The OomPahs” (next generation of the beloved “Oma and the OomPahs” band),
with fiddler, Denise Ray, and with
“Julie Slim and RendezVous.”
She has performed with “Julie Slim and RendezVous” at notable performances including at the French Legation Museum, Parker Jazz Club, Monks Jazz, One to One Bar, Skylark Lounge, Haven on the Lake in Lago Vista, TX, multiple house concerts, The Turtle Restaurant in Brownwood, TX, The Cave Without a Name in Boerne, TX, Dallas Art Museum, Central Market, as well as on several albums. She has also performed on KUTX and KOOP radio.
In 2017 Shirley produced her third CD, “Dancing Angels,” (VJP058) which included well known Austin musicians. She was also awarded a grant from the City of Austin and sponsored by Texas Folklife to produce the 2018, 2019, and 2020 “Not Just Oom-Pah Workshop and Concert.” (www.NotJustOompah.org ). She is cofounder and President of the 501(c )3 non-profit Innovative Accordion Music Productions (www.InnovativeAccordion.org).
In February, 2023 Ms. Johnson played accordion for Concordia University’s student production of “The Spitfire Grill.” In March the Penfold Theatre Company’s production of Leonard Nimoy’s play “Vincent” included Shirley’s composition “Ode to Romance” that was recorded on her CD “Dancing Angels.”
While maintaining a regular performance schedule, in July, 2009 Shirley began teaching accordion, hoping to pass on her knowledge and love of her instrument and music to the next generation. In 2018 she was selected as a Master in the Texas Folklife Apprenticeship in the Folk and Traditional Arts program as an accordionist
You can hear Shirley’s beautiful voice and accordion playing at a festival, club, assisted living, concert, etc. in Austin and throughout Central Texas… and possibly beyond!