Shirley Johnson grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. immersed in her Croatian heritage. At the age of ten she began her accordion studies. Throughout her childhood she performed music and dances as a member of various Tamburitza groups. Shirley played prim on the album "Croatians, Dances They Dance," produced by the Duquesne University Tamburitzans Institute of Folk Arts. (DU-TAM EH-101.)
College took her to North Carolina. As a member of the Duke University Chorale she had the opportunity to sing at Carnegie Hall and Disney World. In 1979 Shirley traveled to Czechoslovakia with the Pittsburgh Area Slovaks. There she accompanied them on accordion at folk festivals in Detva and Senec as well as on Czechoslovak TV and radio.
After college she began dancing international folk-dances and became acquainted with the music of other European cultures. Thanks to The East European Folklife Center, which sponsors workshops devoted to Balkan music, Shirley learned techniques specific to these countries from expert accordionists and singers.
While living in Durham, North Carolina, Shirley directed the women’s folk group “Djevojke,” was a member of the German Oktoberfest band “Holzhackern,” and sang in seven productions produced by the Triangle Opera Theatre. She also played accordion for the North Carolina Theatre's production of "Fiddler on the Roof." She studied voice with Professor Martha Flowers.
In 1995 she was awarded an Emerging Artist grant from the Durham Arts Council and also recorded her first solo CD, “Blood Red Rose- Transcending Boundaries: Songs of the Heart from Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia.” (VJP036.)
From 1992 to 1994, living in Rome, Italy, Shirley sang with the “Coro Misto” of “L’Accademia della Filarmonica, ” performing throughout Rome, including St. Peter’s Basilica, Italian radio and TV, and at the Vatican for Pope John Paul II’s “Papal Concert to Commemorate the Holocaust.”
Since moving to Austin, Texas in 1996 she has performed in concerts, on radio and TV, in clubs, restaurants, festivals, and private parties. For a brief period, Shirley played accordion with the Indie Rock band, “The Invincible Czars, ” including a showcase at the 2004 South by Southwest Music Festival. Shirley is the accordionist on "The Happytones Play Politics" CD and for Scott Morgan Biggs's 2005 short film "Hills Like White Elephants."
In the summer of 2005, Shirley produced her second CD: "Where to Now? Folk Music from many European Lands." (VJP046)