When the GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Gospel Performance/Song are announced Feb. 4 at L.A.’s Crypto.com Arena, 2023 SUNY Oneonta grad Elyse Victoria Johnson will be in the audience, holding her breath as her name is called.
Johnson, who crossed the commencement stage on Dec. 10, 2023, with a BA in Music Industry, is nominated as a songwriter for the upbeat Gospel anthem “God is Good,” along with seven collaborators: Stanley Brown, Hezekiah Walker, Kierra Sheard, Karen Clark Sheard, Kaylah Jiavanni Harvey, Rodney Jerkins and J Drew Sheard II.
It’s been an emotional, eventful year and a half for Johnson, who almost left school after unexpectedly losing her father, Gospel artist Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson, in September 2022. With support from a network of faculty, staff and friends, she kept going, finishing an 18-credit courseload and completing her Music Industry classes and required internship hours the following semester. Last summer, she landed a position in the creative A&R division at Sony Music Publishing in New York City and finished her final semester of elective classes online while working full time.
“God is Good”
When the GRAMMY nominations were revealed in November, Johnson was at home with her mom, watching the livestream announcement for a work assignment. “I did not expect when I heard the Gospel category to hear ‘God is Good,’” she recalls. “I honestly started screaming and running around the house. … My initial reaction was I couldn’t believe I saw my name, and I kept refreshing the page to make sure it was real.”
Johnson’s role in writing the song happened serendipitously on a typical day during her summer 2022 internship at Timeless Music Group in New York City, where her supervisor and mentor was longtime composer/artist/producer Stanley Brown.
“One day, they were playing the instrumental and I just happened to walk into the studio room like I always did every day, but that one day Stanley was like, “What do you think about this song, and can you write a verse?” … He already had the hook, but I started humming the verse, and he was like, ‘OK, this is something.’ We started coming up with artists who could possibly be on the record, and that’s how three artists came together. It’s very collaborative. And just seeing where it is now, I’m very excited.”
Like Father, Like Daughter
Growing up with a father who was a successful Gospel artist, Johnson always knew she wanted to work in the music industry, but not necessarily as a performer. She started piano lessons at age 8, added vocal lessons in high school and began writing songs “to express myself.”
She came to SUNY Oneonta for the Music Industry program, knowing she wanted to study the business side of the industry without venturing too far from home (Elmont, NY.) In addition to getting involved in music-related activities on campus, including Grammy U and the Music Industry Club, Johnson had a job in the Access Opportunity Programs office and joined a variety of clubs that fit her interests, including the Black Engaged and Enlightened Feminist Club, Pan African Student Union, Brothers and Sisters in Christ and Girl Talk, a weekly talk show produced by the WIRE-TV club.
Her favorite classes were in music theory, audio production, music law, music marketing and concert producing. She credits Dr. Joe Pignato’s Music Industry Communications class with preparing her for interviews and negotiations. “I was able to take what I learned and apply it to the real world after leaving Oneonta and starting work in the field.”
The Timeless Music Group summer internship exposed Johnson to all aspects of the industry, from audio production to songwriting to administration. In spring 2023, she completed another internship at the Community Arts Network of Oneonta, where she helped with promotions and marketing for community events, workshops and art exhibitions.
She landed a job in the creative A&R department at Sony Music Publishing after four rounds of interviews. “It still hasn’t hit me yet. It’s a very great experience, and honestly, I’m very grateful for all of this.”
“Butterfly, Fly Away”
At 22 years old, Johnson has a college degree, a full-time job in her field and a GRAMMY Award nomination to her name. And she’s just getting started. Her dream job is to “make an impact in the music industry” as a music executive.
But first, she has focused on a more personal goal, one that motivated her in the dark days after her father passed away. “I felt like taking a leave of absence would be an easy way out and I wanted to finish the task at hand,” she said. “I knew my dad would be even more proud of me if I just finished.”
She recorded a rendition of the Miley Cyrus song “Butterfly Fly Away” as a tribute to her father’s life. “I’m still grieving,” she said. “Grieving never ends. But making my dad proud was the main goal and I feel like he is definitely proud of me now. He’s jumping up and down.”