In Memoriam: Jillian Johnson

In the world of music, great masters die at ripe old ages and young superstars flame out in their twenties.

In our world – that of a very small, regionally based independent record label, you find yourself surrounded by creatives, by entrepreneurs and self-starters. Look to your left and you’ll see talented musicians doing what they do for love of the music, not for expectations of fame and fortune. Look to your right and you’ll see visual artists, designers, and managers that have donated their abilities to beautifying and promoting a sound and a culture that represents them. Eventually you’ll see momentum build and you’ll end up with a “scene”, or a cohesive movement. You’ll end up with a mass of people with great gifts to share that seem to transform and even transcend a community.

And occasionally, in the midst of that movement, a certain, rare breed of genius emerges. The person who is at once musical, artistic, and entrepreneurial. The person who helps both anchor and progress the community’s movement, if that is possible.

Lafayette is one such community and Jillian Johnson was one such genius. Last night, we lost her to a selfish, senseless act of apparently random violence.

In a post today, Wilson Savoy said, “It’s sad that we have to lose someone and after they’re gone, we tell them how amazing and inspiring they were to us, words that they’ll never see or hear.“ Well, we are guilty.

There is nothing we can say here about how special Jillian was that has not been more eloquently stated by her friends and family today, but we can let you know how important Jillian was to Valcour Records.

First, the obvious things: Jillian was a founding member of The Figs – the old time, all girl band with whom we released our third CD. It was also the first Valcour CD packaging Jillian designed. Since then she also designed packaging for Bonsoir Catin and Feufollet CDs released by Valcour. She has done more design work with us than any other outside party. In addition to The Figs, Jillian was a manager for the Red Stick Ramblers, and she was instrumental in the early years of the Black Pot Festival. Through her firm Work Agencies, she worked with musicians to create websites, logos, CDs, and marketing materials that have been absolutely integral to our record label throughout its existence. Valcour would not have the same flavor it does today but for Jillian’s soulful contributions.

And all this work was in addition to founding a couple of Lafayette’s coolest creative businesses in Parish Ink and the Red Arrow Workshop.

On paper, it is clear that Jillian was a force. That she was a renaissance woman: prolific in her short career and a pioneer and leader in the Lafayette creative scene. But personally, Jillian had an impact on us at Valcour that may never have been evident. The truth is, Jillian was fun-loving and hilarious, but she was also intense. She had fierce talent and did not settle for mediocrity. She was competitive, and capable of pushing people beyond their comfort zones. When today’s incarnation of Acadiana’s thriving music scene was fledgling, Jillian pushed us (and we like to think we pushed her back) to be exceptional.

But there was a lot of love. A lot of late nights, a lot of great music, conversations about design and typography, and basking in the beauty of what we made together.

In the world of music, great masters die at ripe old ages and young superstars flame out in their twenties. But last night, a special kind of genius was stolen from us all too soon.

Jillian, our biggest regret is what now we will not do together, the art you would have produced and the songs you would have written and sung that we will never get to enjoy. The passion and love you possessed are an inspiration. The heart of our community has a big new hole in it, but we hope to honor you by continuing to bring music and art to the world. And we promise we will do our best to be exceptional.