By Charles Alexander
When Detroit-born, Cass Tech graduate Bernard Johnson died, age 60 in 1997, the New York Times carried a quarter-page obit celebrating his life as “a Renaissance man in dance.”
Little bigger than a metronome minute – at 5-foot-4 – he started dancing at age 11. We became friends during our CT senior year, and were part of an integrated black/white circle of gay art and music students who often gathered after class to “dish” and let our hair down at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts Shop in downtown Detroit.
(As art students we were free to roam all seven floors, freehand drawing in pencil and charcoal, mastering the intricacies of one- and two-point perspective. During warm weather we sketched, painted watercolors, socialized in shady nearby Cass Park.)
Bernard Johnson majored in fashion design, and was much admired for renderings of furs, fabrics, dresses and accessories. In the late-1950s there were few black CT students majoring in fashion design.
He was also known as an interpreter of ballet and modern dance, invited by our senior art/design instructor Donald Thrall to perform for an all-school talent extravaganza.
Bernard wore a discreetly brief costume, and his body was painted a shimmering gold. When he stepped stage center into the spotlight, there was an expectant hush among the 1,500 students gathered in the balconied auditorium.