Dotts Johnson

The Dotts Johnson Project researches the life of Dotts Johnson, who played one of the lead roles in Roberto Rossellini’s 1946 Paisà [Paisan], and was the first African American performer to star in an Italian film. Johnson’s long career in American theatre, TV, film, radio, and music has largely fallen out of the view of performing arts historians. The project includes: original archival research into Johnson’s life and work in order to situate him in a broader performing arts historical context; the creation of a digital exhibit to make that research accessible to the public and to other scholars; and the development of an original musical theatre piece, The Moods of Dotts Johnson in Song, inspired by and featuring Johnson’s musical compositions and informed by archival research and family interviews. Centered around the story of Johnson’s granddaughter, Dr. Luvada Harrison, in her quest to discover more about her grandfather, the musical theatre piece will feature Dr. Harrison in its first production. The project responds to the need for a more robust history and public awareness of significant African American artists whose work has gone understudied and unappreciated. In addition to an interview between Dr. Romanelli and Dr. Harrison forthcoming in The Journal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies, the team has presented their work at conference meetings for the National Council on Public History, the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities, and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.

This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit


Professor Robin Behn, CARI Faculty Fellow and Professor of English

Dr. Luvada Harrison, CARI Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre/Voice

Dr. Yolanda Manora, CARI Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of English

Dr. Claudia Romanelli, CARI Faculty Fellow and Associate Professor of Italian

Dr. Erin Stoneking, CARI Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Gender and Race Studies