Duane W. Johnson


Duane Johnson came to Villisca in 1956 as the new band director and instrumental music instructor. During his nine-year tenure, he reshaped the Villisca band program into one of the best in the state.

Mr. Johnson was a 1954 graduate of the music program at the University of Nebraska. He brought to Villisca a new vision for teaching instrumental music and the youthful exuberance to achieve it.

His marching bands not only marched, they entertained with snappy music and intricate maneuvers. The audiences loved their shows. The band members were proud to be part of it and worked hard at it, including practicing early mornings before school started. They marched in many different towns and competitions. They won “1” ratings at the State Marching Contest in 1964 and again in 1965.

Mr. Johnson similarly transformed the concert band. His concert bands gained a reputation as one of the best in the state of Iowa, winning “1” ratings for four years in a row at the annual State Large Group Contest.

He also initiated a high school jazz band and a dance band called “Mr. J and The Jaynotes” in which he played the lead trumpet. He led a pep band and summer bands. His students also competed as solos, ensembles, trios, quartets, quintets, and won “1” ratings at all levels.

Mr. Johnson taught elementary students to appreciate instrumental music by introducing plastic flutes into a new program for those grades. As he identified those students with musical ability, he guided them to advance to another instrument and into the junior high band.

Under his guidance, the existing band parent organization evolved into the Villisca Band Mothers, which became a formidable fund-raising organization to help pay for band uniforms and expenses.

In 1965, he moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where his exceptional career continued until he retired in 1993. In 1994, he received the Outstanding Bandmaster Award from the Nebraska Bandmasters’ Association, its highest honor.

Duane W. Johnson, a 2017 member of the Villisca Bluejay Hall of Fame, now lives in Bella Vista, Arkansas.