Virgil Johnson

Virgil Johnson was the lead singer of the Velvets, a vocal quintet from Odessa, Texas. The Velvets are best remembered for their 1961 hit "Tonight (Could Be The Night)", which reached # 26 on Billboard’s pop charts. On that song the Velvets can be heard chanting "doo-wop" behind lead singer Johnson, one of the first uses of the phrase in a song.
Virgil was born on December 29, 1935 in Cameron, Texas. He was unable to attend Texas Tech after graduating high school, because of segregation at that time. However, he later received his Masters from Texas Tech.
Virgil became an English teacher at Blackshear Junior High School in Odessa. There he heard two students, Mark Prince and Clarence Rigby, singing as a duo. He recruited two more students, Robert Thursby and William Solomon to form a quintet with Virgil as the lead singer. They performed at school sock-hops and other local events.
In 1960, Roy Orbison heard them while visiting Odessa and recommended the group to Monument Records, which signed the group as "The Velvets, featuring Virgil Johnson." The group's first session brought about four songs: "That Lucky Old Sun," "Time And Again," "Tonight," and "Spring Fever". Two of the songs were written by Orbison and "Tonight" was written by Virgil Johnson. Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer also accompanied the group.
The Velvets put out only nine singles, until they left the record company in 1966. Johnson explained their brief recording career, saying "You got to realize, in the early sixties there were two music markets in the US. You had a black market and you had a white market. We were extremely popular with whites, but we were never extremely popular with blacks. We were black and we didn't sound like it. People didn't know we were a black group. We couldn't tour and that really hurt us."
Johnson resumed teaching and retired as principal from Lubbock's Dunbar Junior High School in 1993. He also worked as a deejay at KSEL, until he retired. After retirement, he began working at KDAV where he was dubbed "VJ the DJ."
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Rockabilly Site on Virgil Johnson

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