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Guitarist Jef Lee Johnson Dies at 54

Prolific session musician and leader succumbs to pneumonia and diabetes

Jef Lee Johnson
Jef Lee Johnson

Guitarist, singer and songwriter Jef Lee Johnson died Monday, Jan. 28, at Philadelphia’s Roxborough Memorial Hospital due to complications from pneumonia and diabetes. He was 54.

Johnson was born in Philadelphia and began his career playing gospel music there in the 1970s, but he gained recognition upon moving to New York, where he played in drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson’s group Decoding Society, as well as with McCoy Tyner and others. He first recorded on violinist John Blake’s 1985 album Twinkling of an Eye and subsequently became an oft-employed session player. His credits include guitar contributions to recordings by artists as diverse as Billy Joel, Teddy Pendergrass, Phyllis Hyman, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Common, George Duke, the Roots, Melody Gardot, Erykah Badu, Stanley Clarke, Jeff Beck, Aretha Franklin, Al Jarreau, James Carter, Mariah Carey and Esperanza Spalding (last year’s Radio Music Society).

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