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Poet, Jazz Artist, Bobby Johnson Found, Died at Hospital

By Staff

Bobby Johnson. Photo from https://www.clarissauprooted.org/.

Bobby Johnson, 93 who had been missing since Friday afternoon, was found and died Saturday morning. 

He died from a “a medical emergency” according to the Rochester Police Department. 

Johnson was well-known in the community as the “bard of Clarissa Street”. He was a local poet and a publisher of several books including 1985’s Clarissa Street Project: Bebop Edition. 

He graduated from Madison High and was drafted into the United States Army at the age of 20. After serving for eight months, he returned to Rochester and found work at a meat packing plant. In 1959, he began working at the U.S. Postal Service and then, he went to work for DuPont. 

Johnson later studied at Rochester Institute of Technology and Monroe Community College, embarking on a career as a poet and writer. He earned a degree in creative writing from Empire State College. 

Team Empowerment recently honored him with their Youth History Ambassador Award for his poetry and his work keeping the Clarissa Street’s jazz-circuit and memory alive. 

“He was a staple in the community,” said Joan Coles Howard. “I last saw him a week ago at a tribute we did for my father (the late Howard Wilson Coles). I didn’t realize it would be the last time we would see each other.” 

Johnson had worked with Howard Coles delivering the Frederick Douglass Voice newspaper, a paper Coles published in Rochester for more than 60 years. 

An interview Johnson did in 1980 on “Rochester Voices”, demonstrated his deep roots in Rochester as he describes his experience during the 1964 race riots, and shares stories about police brutality in the 1950s and the lynching of a young black man in Rochester. He also discussed housing discrimination in Rochester and how he uses poetry to celebrate the beauty in black communities. 

The full interview can be found here: http://www.rochestervoices.org/historical-media/interview-bobbie-johnson/ 

RPD issued the following statement regarding Johnson’s death. 

“A missing person investigation was launched and members of the RPD worked to locate the missing male. On the morning of 11/19/22 a “Vulnerable Missing Adult Alert” was issued by the NYS Missing Persons Clearinghouse. The male was located this afternoon, in his vehicle, that was parked in the 600 block of Chili Ave. When the male was found, he was suffering from what appeared to be a medical emergency. He was transported to an area hospital where he unfortunately passed away. At this point, there is nothing deemed suspicious about his death.”