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Clifford Clinton Johnson Sr., affectionately known as Cliff, was born December 25, 1925. The second son of Julius Johnson and Alyce Eley Johnson, Cliff was a graduate of the Asbury Park Public School System.
Cliff was exposed to music at an early age by his mother who was a music teacher, and his home was very much like a music studio. Cliff's love of music and fascination with the saxophone led him to study wind instruments with the late Professor Miraglia. Cliff became a professional musician during his senior year in high school.
In 1943 Cliff enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and was stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Alaska. After the war ended in 1946 Cliff was Honorably Discharged. The World War II veteran returned to Asbury Park and jumped back into the Westside music scene performing up and down Springwood Ave. Cliff and his group, The Squires of Rhythm, performed in venues throughout the Tri-State area, and at Princeton University, Delaware State, Lehigh University and others institutions of higher learning on the East Coast College Circuit. From 1946 to 1970 Cliff was a musician at night and pharmacist's assistant during the day working alongside his father Doc Johnson at the Westside Drugstore.
Cliff went to work for the Progressive Life Insurance Company in 1973, starting as a Debit Manager, and became one of their top producers. He was named “Man of the Year” in 1979, 1982, and 1987. He was elected President of the United Representative Guild, which was the union that represented all of the Life Insurance Agents of the Progressive Life Insurance Company. After a short retirement in 1989, he was appointed Manager of the Asbury Park Office of the Unity Mutual Life Insurance Company of Syracuse, NY. Prior to his retirement in 2002, Cliff was employed as Training Manager of the Atlantic Region of the Unity Life Insurance Company.
From childhood Cliff was always involved in the church, specifically St. Stephen AME Zion Church. It was in his genes, his grandfather the late Rev. William H. Eley served as pastor of St. Stephen AME Zion Church when Cliff was born. On the local level, Cliff had an impressive resume at St. Stephen AME Zion, he served as Chairman of the Trustee Board for 25 years, President of the Men’s Usher Board, Leader of Class Leaders, and was a member of the Male Chorus. Most notably, Clifford served as General Chairman of the Building Program that moved the church from Union Avenue to its present Springwood Avenue location. On the Conference level, he was the founding President of the Camden District Lay Council of the New Jersey Conference and President of the Lay Council of the New Jersey Conference. Cliff was a Charter Member of the St. Stephen Urban Development Corporation, who were the builders of the Stephen Manor Apartments, from 1968 to 2012, where he served as Vice President and President of its Board of Directors.
Fulfilling his desire to help others, Cliff found time to become a mentor with the Big Brother and Big Sister organization, working with male at risk youths. He was appointed to serve on the Zoning Board of Adjustment of Neptune Township. Cliff also was a consultant and panelist on the history of musical heritage of the Springwood Avenue jazz scene and appeared in two television documentaries.
In February 2015, Cliff’s, photos depicting him playing at the Asbury Park Westside jazz scene were on display at Monmouth University. In June 2015, Cliff was the guest saxophonist at the opening reception of a musical exhibition presented by the Monmouth County Historical Association and the Asbury Park Historical Society in Freehold, NJ. The exhibition featured an array of rare photos, artifacts and recordings. Playing the saxophone was something he always enjoyed. In recent years, Cliff performed at local churches, and special events. Cliff was a people person, he enjoyed establishing relationships with people and he did that through his music. It has been said that music is a universal language. Those of us who have heard Cliff play would agree that through his saxophone Cliff spoke that universal language extremely well. Needless to say, he will be missed but his legacy of service to God, love for humanity, especially family and his love of music will live on.
Clifford is predeceased by his loving wife, Monolia Irene Johnson, and his son, Clifford Clinton Johnson Jr. He is survived by one son, Melvin L. Jones and his wife, Patricia of Leland, North Carolina; two daughters, Janice Anderson of Highlands, New Jersey, and Kimberlee Jennings of Monroe Township, New Jersey; two sisters, Delcina Teel of Snellville, Georgia, and Alyce Warrick-Smith of Indianapolis, Indiana; grandchildren Clifford Johnson III of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Jennifer L. Jones of London, England, Mark A. Jones and wife, Marnie, of Severna Park, Maryland, Issac Johnson of McKinney, Texas, Douglas C. Morgan and wife, Maggie, of Brick, NJ, Lyndsey Smith and partner Brittany of New Orleans, Louisiana, James Elf and wife, Moriah, of Howell, New Jersey, and Julian Morgan of Highlands, New Jersey; great-grandchildren Jacob T. Barnard, Luke A. Barnard, Michael B. Smith, Marcus R. Smith, Rome W. Jones, Brayden D. Morgan, Eva S. Jones and Mia E. Morgan, Jackson W. Morgan, and a host of friends and relatives.
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