Jazz Appreciation Month: Ken “Snakehips” Johnson

Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, born Kenrick Reginald Hijmans Johnson was a band leader who was a leading figure in black music in 1930s England, he was born in British Guiana and was sent to the UK by his parents at the age of 15 to study at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School. He developed an interest in and dance and achieved the nickname “Snakehips” from his “flexible fluid style”. After a trip to the USA he was inspired to become a band leader and in 1936 was invited to lead the Leslie Thompson band, before going on to form his own band “Ken Johnson and his Rhythm Swingers” later “The West Indian Orchestra”. At the outbreak of World War 2 he was given a residency at the Café de Paris where he also made BBC Radio Broadcasts and even an early television appearance. It was at the club that on 8th March 1941 during the height of the London Blitz, a 50kg high explosive came through the roof straight onto the dance floor. 80 people were injured and 36 were killed which sadly included Johnson who was decapitated in the blast, his saxophonist Dave “Baba” Williams was also killed.

Here is Snakehip Swing:


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