Alumnus shines in the music industry

May 5, 2004, midnight | By Anthony Glynn | 19 years, 11 months ago

The hum of TVs and computers fills the office. Rap music blasts from another room while a discussion about underground reggae competes for sound prominence. A deep voice can be heard coming from outside. A man enters the room while talking to a woman at his side. About six feet in height and speaking with a low voice, he creates an intimidating setting until the ecstatic smile spreads over his face, filling the office with a bright light. The voice, now speaking of more cordial matters, is lighthearted. This is the office in Marimelj Entertainment recording studios, and the man is Blair graduate ('89) Marcus Johnson, its founder, CEO and president.

Johnson, who is CEO of the leading recording studio in the Washington, D.C., area, will be addressing Blair's graduation ceremony for the class of 2004.

Johnson is in charge of everything recorded and published under the record label Three Keys Music. In 2001, he was awarded the U.S. Small Business Administration's Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In addition he has performed at many clubs and is a full-fledged musician with six releases over the span of his career.

Soon after he was born in Columbus, Ohio, Johnson moved to Washington, D.C. Music came into Johnson's life when he started learning piano at age six. A few years later, when he saw Earth, Wind & Fire in concert, Johnson realized that this hobby was his calling. He started playing piano competitively at Blair in tenth grade. He became first seat in the jazz band when he entered but lost the position after a freshman joined some time afterward. This discouragement drove Johnson to go home that night and practice for hours. A few days later, he was back in first seat.

After spending six months as a music engineering and tech major at the University of Miami, Johnson transferred to Howard University in D.C., where he double majored in music and business administration. He attended Georgetown Law School and Business School in pursuit of both law and MBA degrees.

There is no average day for Johnson. Streetz, a local youth group, came by unexpectedly at one point to talk about music programs for children. Johnson's studio has also been working on a project for diabetes prevention, and the rap song that he recorded at 2:00 a.m. one morning about healthy lifestyles plays in the background as he discusses the endeavors. Johnson points out that these kinds of unanticipated occurrences happen all the time. "You have to make sure to hit the important parts [you want to accomplish], but you have to be flexible for new opportunities." The most difficult thing for Johnson is prioritizing. Time management is vital in order to organize for his hectic lifestyle. "I mean, you got ‘A' that comes along and you got ‘B' and you want to do both. Which do you choose?" he says, his arms spread in indecision.

Johnson works long hours. "We are the major label in distribution in the D.C. area, so I can honestly say that we get bombarded by people all the time," he says.

Johnson's memories of Blair are heartfelt and vivid. He especially remembers his senior prank and believes it was one of Blair's best. "You know about beach week? Well, we got 5,000 pounds of sand and put it in the student parking lot. We brought umbrellas and had a little beach party there. Then principal Gainous came walking by, shook his head and kept on walking. It was great."

Ray Harry, Johnson's jazz band professor, also impacted Johnson's life. "He was the guy who always made sure you came to class, got good grades, stayed out of trouble; he had a very good influence on my life," Johnson says gratefully.

He recalls football coach Dale Miller from Johnson's days as a running and a corner back. Miller pushed him to run stairs everyday, which Johnson believes helped him develop strong self-discipline. Johnson says the experiences he had at Blair gave him the strength to overcome the obstacles in his professional and personal life and that his education at Blair had a very positive impact on his life.

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