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Passings: Virgil Johnson of The Velvets (1935 - 2013)

Virgil Johnson, lead vocalist for the Doo Wop group The Velvets and a master educator, died on Sunday at Covenant Hospital in Lubbock, TX. He was 77.

Johnson was initially a teacher at Blackshear Junior High School in Odessa, Texas where, in 1959, he approached four of his students about starting a singing group. A year later, while The Velvets were performing at a local event, a visiting Roy Orbison saw them and convinced Fred Foster of Monument Records to sign the group to a contract.

They initially recorded two singles for the label, That Lucky Old Son/Time and Time Again and Tonight (Could Be the Night)/Spring Fever with both B-sides written by Orbison. It was the second song, written by Johnson, that propelled the group onto the national charts. Tonight (Could Be the Night) peaked at number 26 and was followed Lana/Laugh (both written by Orbison) which topped out at 90 in the U.S. but hit number 1 in Japan.

The group stayed with Monument until 1966 but didn't chart any further records. Johnson once explained their failure to break through even bigger to Rockabillyeurope.com, saying "You got to realize, in the early sixties there were two music markets in the U.S. 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 returned to teaching and eventually became a principal in the Lubbock School District. On the side, he was a DJ which he continued after his 1993 retirement from education. It wasn't until after that retirement that it was revealed the he had once been a popular recording artist. Since then, he performed a number of times in the area at various events.

Johnson is the only African-American inducted onto the West Texas Walk of Fame and was named one of the 100 most influential people from Lubbock.

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