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Merritt Johnson Collection

Identifier: 06-110

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of six boxes of Merritt Johnson's compositions, mainly in manuscript form or printed with the Musicwriter typewriter, as well as correspondence, music sketchbooks, and materials related to donor Susan Vaughan's efforts to perserve Johnson's music and pedagogy.


  • Creation: 1927-2017
  • Acquisition: Date acquired: 11/14/2016


Conditions Governing Access

Access to this collection is provided only by special arrangement. Please contact the Music Library for more information.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction and publication of materials in this collection are subject to the policies of the UNT Music Library. Copyright restrictions may apply.


6.00 boxes

Language of Materials


Physical Access Requirements

Collection is housed in the UNT Music Library. Advance notice for use is required. Please contact the Music Library for further information.

Custodial History

In January, 1969, Susan K. Vaughan, a former piano and organ student of Katherine and Merritt Johnson, met with Mr. Johnson to begin the process of collecting information about his life, compositions, and teaching ideas as part of her master’s degree thesis at Texas Woman’s University. At that time, she copied Johnson’s handwritten scores using a Thermo-Fax copier. Those copies were wrapped in dark black plastic to preserve them against deteriorating light. When the project was declined for a thesis project, Susan decided to save the project for a later time when technologies warranted easier reproduction and ready access. At that time, the Thermo-Fax copies were delivered to Mitta Johnson Angell, Merritt’s older daughter, for storage until the project could be re-activated, which occurred forty years later, in 2015. Susan moved back to Denton, Texas, where the project was initiated, and she reactivated the project with Mitta Angell, who lived about an hour away in Dallas. Susan’s son, Vaughan Michael Hennen, was an undergraduate music student at UNT at the time, and he introduced Susan to Dr. Mark McKnight, head music librarian at the University of North Texas. After reviewing the project and the extent of Johnson’s compositions, Dr. McKnight invited the Johnson family to bring the entire music collection of Merritt Johnson to UNT for digital copying and permanent storage. This initiated digital scanning of Johnson’s music and open access to all of his music worldwide on the web. The interest that UNT took in the project in turn stimulated interest in the Johnson’s work at Northern State University (NSU), his home teaching college of forty-five years. NSU currently housed the Musicwriter machine that Johnson used to print his compositions. The music produced by Johnson was sold in the college bookstore for teaching his organ and piano students. At this time, NSU purchased a new state-of-the-art scanner for their library, so Head Librarian, Robert Russell, agreed to digitize all of Johnson’s handwritten scores to complement the UNT collection of music. They, too, agreed to open access making all of Johnson’s music available free of charge worldwide. After several attempts were made to secure external funding from the South Dakota Humanities Commission, UNT and NSU agreed to partner and complete the complete Johnson collection within their institutions. This generous commitment by both institutions was realized in 2016, thus making it possible for anyone worldwide to view and/or print the handwritten or Musicwriter machine-produced scores without charge. The Musicwriter is a form of typewriter for printing music notes and symbols rather than letters. Access to state-of-the-art technologies at both campuses made it possible for all of Johnson’s handwritten scores, music recordings, and Musicwriter print scores to be accessible worldwide without charge. None of these technologies were available in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Johnson project was initiated. The two institutions share a display of the Musicwriter machine, which will be stored permanently at UNT beginning in 2018. NSU houses all of Johnson’s music created on the Musicwriter machine, a form of music typewriter that Johnson used in the 1960s. That music was once sold at the bookstore to Johnson’s students. Today, the University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, and Northern State University, Aberdeen, South Dakota, serve as partnering repositories for the entire Johnson music print and recordings collections. And, UNT will keep the Johnson permanent collection of original handwritten music scores, composition notebooks, Musicwriter print compositions, scores produced with Finale, family photographs, LP recordings, and materials collected by project initiator, Susan K. Vaughan. In 2015, Andrew Justice, former UNT assistant music librarian, began the digitization process with early Musicwriter works and all of the LP recordings of Merritt Johnson’s compositions. Because of this, UNT’s Merritt Johnson compositions are available through open access (see the link below). The UNT Music Library also houses all of the original Johnson handwritten music notebooks including piano, organ, and choral music composition notebooks, all of Johnson’s LP recordings, and family photos/mementos available to the public through open access. Dr. Mark McKnight, head librarian in the music library at UNT, managed all details to set-up of the Merritt Johnson permanent collection of notebooks, handwritten scores, LP recordings, teaching notebooks, and compositions that Merritt Johnson’s produced. This permanent collection represents the entire body of Johnson’s life works. Northern State University (NSU), Aberdeen, South Dakota: The Northern State University Digital Collections provide the entire collection of Johnson’s compositions that were used for teaching piano and organ at Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota. All works were produced with his Musicwriter machine, which printed notes like an early typewriter. The collection includes chord studies and technique books for piano and organ, vocal solos and choral anthems, and all of his compositions for organ and piano. NSU will house Johnson’s Musicwriter machine from 2016-2018 for displays with the print scores produced by Johnson and sold by the NSU bookstore. Due to the fragile nature of Johnson’s handwritten scores, Susan K. Vaughan delivered all of the handwritten scores to NSU from Texas in the summer of 2015. They were scanned and are freely available.

Source of Acquisition

Dr. Susan K. Vaughan

Method of Acquisition


Accruals and Additions

1 box, August 22, 2017.

Other Descriptive Information

Merritt Johnson Collection
Maristella Feustle
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Music Library Repository