A cheerful and proud cast member of the National Tour of the 2010 Tony Award
winner for Best Musical, Memphis, Julie Johnson graciously spoke with
me over the phone from Las Vegas, Nevada where she was performing at the Smith
Center and the stop before this musical hits the Civic Theater with Broadway San
The veteran singer has enjoyed a wide-ranging career on and off Broadway; she’s
had parts in films, television, and sang at Carnegie Hall with the New York
But you may be more familiar with Johnson as the voice of Baby Bop in the popular PBS children’s show “Barney,” where she worked for 20 years. “We taped during the day, and I was able to do theater a lot of times at night,” said Johnson recalling the frenetic pace of her acting and singing career.
The long time-span doing the voice work on “Barney” piqued my curiosity, and I had to ask the Texas native if she worked during the same period when the budding Disney starlets, Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, were also on the show.
Johnson’s latest stage pursuit is playing the character Mama in the musical
Memphis. The play is loosely based on the story of Hughie Philips, a
popular DJ on an all white radio station in the 1950s. Philips is the first
documented radio personality to take on the establishment by playing black soul
music, called “race records,” when segregation was a matter of law, and not just
people’s views. Julie Johnson plays the mother of the rebel DJ, and is compelled
to explore what has gripped her son’s mind and heart when he starts playing
non-white music, and also falls in love with a black woman.
The dedicated mother said her 13 year-old son is backstage and is traveling with
her for a year. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way!” Johnson said regarding
her only child. “I am also homeschooling him. It’s his 7th grade, but if he were
a freshman in high school I wouldn’t even attempt high school math.”