(Editor’s note: Funeral services for Johnson will take place Monday, April 15th, at 3 p.m. at the James H. Cole Home for Funerals, located at 16100 Schaefer Hwy. in Detroit.)
DETROIT – Community activist, dancer and former female impersonator Edward Johnson died Monday, April 8th from complications from kidney failure. He was 36.
A Detroit native, Johnson grew up on the West Side. He graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1994 and went on to study dance at Oakland University, Marygrove College and Wayne State University. He performed with many local dance companies, including Jazz & Spirit Dance Theatre of Detroit, Natural Locz Dance Company, Detroit City Dance Company, Body Rhythm Dance Theatre and the Detroit Windsor Dance Company. Soon, he was not only dancing but choreographing and instructing as well.
But dancing wasn’t Johnson’s only passion. He became active in Detroit’s LGBT community, working for Horizons Project and later Men of Color Motivational Group.
“He just had a beautiful soul,” said June Washington, who hired him to work at Horizons Project as an outreach worker. “He was just a sweet individual. He didn’t speak badly about anyone.”
In the late ’90s, Johnson made a foray into the world of female impersonation, creating the character Tokyo Reign. Legendary female impersonator April Summers soon took Johnson under her wing.
“I loved Tokyo,” Summers said. “She was a very hard worker. And as Edward, he was very giving.”
Tokyo Reign went on to win many area titles, including Miss Michigan Continental Plus, Miss Great Lakes Continental Plus, Miss Club Flamingo and Miss Stilettos.
As Johnson began to master his craft, he took time to school others.
“When I met Edward, I was a shy, soft spoken young man,” said Donzell, aka Dominique Polo. “Edward took me under his wing not only as my drag mother but as a gay parent and mentor. Edward taught me not only about the gay life and the pageant world, but also about real life.”
Polo said that Johnson’s impact on his personal development cannot be overstated.
“There was a time in my life when it seemed as if my world was coming to an end,” Polo recalled. “I didn’t what to do. So I called my ‘momma’ and he came to my rescue. He lectured me and showed me that my situation wasn’t as bad as I thought. He was my voice of hope.”
In recent years, Johnson had started his own business and worked as a personal shopper. He was ever-evolving and always trying something new.
Johnson is survived by his mother, Deborah Johnson, and his sister, Erica Barham.
“What I will remember most is his spontaneity,” said Barham. “You never knew what he was going to get into next. He had so many interests, and anything that sparked creativity interested him. You really never knew what was next.”
Funeral services for Johnson will take place Monday, April 15th, at 3 p.m. at the James H. Cole Home for Funerals, located at 16100 Schaefer Hwy. in Detroit.