Johanna Grüssner from The Aaland Islands in Finland graduated from Berklee College of Music and Manhattan School of Music. In USA she became an established jazz vocalist and was hired to start a music program at Public School 86 in The Bronx. She took her own big band as well as the Bronx children on tours to Scandinavia which was documented by The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CNN and The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). She has arranged tours for Scandinavian choirs in the USA and started Ålands Projektkör 2009. Johanna has recorded 25 solo albums, most of them signed on Prophone/Naxos Jazz and BlueMusicGroup. She was commissioned to compose ”Migrantvisan” that was performed in Vasa 2017 with thousands of children and orchestra. Based in Stockholm, Johanna works with highly professional musicians, she produces big shows and charity events, as well as singing as a freelance vocalist and teaching students preparing for a professional career. She has received several cultural prizes as a musician, producer, conductor and for her ability to engage and merge large numbers of amateurs and professionals in her productions.
Johanna Grüssner was born 1972 in The Aaland Islands, a self dependent archipelago between Sweden and Finland. She grew up in the idyllic countryside where she sang in the local children’s choir. The eminent choir director composed new music for the children, and Johanna was always interested in learning how to read music and singing difficult harmonies. Once a week she got on the bus to get piano lessons from an elderly lady in the nearby village. Around 10 she was accepted to the music institute of Mariehamn where she continued taking piano lessons as well as music theory. Still it was the singing that always interested her the most, and she continued to be a faithful singer in the local church choir.
A few years later Johanna started taking classical voice lessons at the music institute. Despite the good vocal technique, she had a strong urge to make her own interpretations and improvisations which she got the chance to develop in the gospel choir Intermezzo. The choir director took her under his wing and gave her solos and opportunities to perform. She was thrilled by the freedom of expression in the African American music tradition.
After her high school graduation 1991 Johanna chose to work for a year as a music teacher at different schools on the island. She worked with disabled, young children, and at her own previous high school where she also produced and directed her first musical theater with choir, orchestra and soloists. Many other schools visited and saw the production which was Johanna’s first. She was then 19 years old.
It was time to decide what to study, and Johanna chose to attend a folk high school in Sweden that offered both music and drama. Suddenly a whole new world opened up with jazz music, ensemble playing and improvisation. Johanna fell in love with jazz and decided to audition to Berklee College of Music in Boston. After her audition in Frankfurt, Germany, she was offered a scholarship. Despite the fact that she was accepted to the Swedish music college, she chose to move to the the other side of the Atlantic ocean and study music at Berklee.
Moving to a new country with another language did not bother Johanna. She loved the enormous music college with school mates from the entire world. The school offered everything she had ever dreamt of, daily concerts of all kinds, highly educated professors and very talented class mates. To afford her years abroad, she tested out of several courses and finished her education in three years instead of four. Christmas time she always spent in The Aaland Islands, when she produced a charity gala where she raised money for Amnesty International. At the 20th concert she produced an album with 20 different singers recording a track each. All to raise money for the organization.
Even summers she spent in Åland where she ran a music café seven days a week with baking donuts, making pancakes and producing concerts. This was her way to continue her studies in the USA, and she got accepted to a master’s program in jazz performance at Manhattan School of Music in New York, the city of jazz music. She studied at daytime and performed at jazz clubs at night. She started her own big band, The Manhattan Jazz Orchestra, that accompanied her for her graduation concert 1998. She recorded the concert and released the album ”Live at Hubbard Hall” and brought the big band on tour to Scandinavia to perform at jazz clubs and festivals. Johanna was the singer, stage manager, tour manager and travel agent on the two week long tour. Back in New York they performed two sold out concerts at Birdland Jazzclub with Putte Wickman, Anders Berglund and Svante Thuresson.
After the American degree Johanna took the advantage to stay and work in New York. She got the position as a music teacher at Public School 86 in the Bronx where she was asked to start up a new music program. The school had over 2000 students, no music room, instruments or other music teachers, but Johanna bought a guitar and started to walk from classroom to classroom. Soon enough both she and the school realized the huge need of music and art in the children’s lives. Johanna applied and won a music grant that gave PS 86 a big number of brand new instruments such as trombones, flutes, saxophones and drum sets. The school hired more music teachers, Johanna’s friends from Manhattan School of Music. She started a gospel choir at PS 86, her best way to involve a large number of singers, teach songs by rote and by heart. The 80-piece choir went to the finals in a national competition at Grand Central Station, and Johanna’s dreams had no limit. After gathering grants from different places she managed to bring the choir to her homeland, The Aaland Islands. In May 2001, she took 24 eleven year-olds on the trip of their lives. They performed in her old elementary school where they met their penfriends they had been in touch with the last six months, they went on sailing ships and performed concerts with standing ovations. The Bronx-children stayed with hosts families and at a beautiful camp by the sea.
The days before the trip The New York Times got an anonymous tip that resulted in a first page article. In The Metro Section. The reporter and a photographer joined on the trip and followed the children the whole week along with NBC, CNN and the Finnish broadcasting company YLE who made the documentary ”Vem kan segla” based on the children’s trip. The title taken from an ethnic folk song from Åland that the Bronx children had learned to sing.
All the press made three articles in The New York Times and Johanna was contacted by American book companies and film producers who wanted to make a movie about Johanna and the children. Famous actors were suggested to make the character of Johanna who was fascinated by the attention and press, but also concerned how to keep the genuinity of the story in case the movie was to become reality. Despite a full calendar, everything came to an abrupt ending after the terror attack on September 11 the same Fall. The house of cards fell apart, Johanna said goodbye to New York and moved to Stockholm to start a new life.
In Stockholm Johanna started her own company and taught at different music programs such as Sibelius Academy (Helsinki), Novia Music House (Jakobstad) and Kulturama (Stockholm). At the same time she got her diagnosis Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy 2i (LGMD2i), a genetic progressive neurological disease where the muscles slowly weaken. The same diagnosis as her two sisters in The Aaland Islands. The sisters, who she had always been very close to, started making music together for real when Johanna moved back. The started the group Ulvens Döttrar who write ethnic original world music and play their own instruments such as fiddle, didgeridoo, djembe drums and key harp while singing three-part harmonies. Ulvens Döttrar has toured Scandinavia , made exclusive concert for the President Tarja Halonen, produced their own CD’s on their own and with others such as Bothnia Rhythm Orchestra.
Johanna got married 2003 and was soon offered a permanent position at Södra Latin High School, a high level music school for students aiming for a career in music. She has started a collaboration with Berklee College of Music where professors from Boston visit every year to find scholar students for their international music program.
After the earthquake in Haiti she started a charity gala at Södra Teatern to fundraise money for the smitten people in Haiti. This she ran five years in a row.
When the New York Times reporter Anemona Hartocollis contacted Johanna to write a book about her and the Bronx children the answer was easy. She accepted and was now able to participate the whole way from interviews to proof reading. Now the story got to be documented the exact way as it had happened. The book ”Seven Days of Possibilities” was released 2004 with a follow-up tour in The USA.
At the same time Johanna was offered a record deal with Prohone/Naxos Jazz. She released the album ”No More Blues” a year after intense work with grammy-winner John Snyder. The release was held in Nashville, USA, where Johanna performed her music. Next album on the same company was recorded in 2006 at Dockside Studios in Louisiana, again with producer John Snyder.
In 2009 Johanna started Ålands Projektkör in her home town Åland, that she directs every third weekend. She is the producer, conductor and director of a 100-piece chorus, orchestra, soloists and dancers in big productions as A Tribute To Duke Ellington, A Circle of Life, A Tribute To Queen, Syrakusas Öga, and A Tribute to Elvis. Her productions have been performed in Stockholm, Kristinestad, Åbo, Jakobstad and Mariehamn.
Johanna has received cultural prizes from Finlandia Foundation, Åland Tourist Organisation, Åland Government, American Scandinavian Society, The Swedish Finnish Song-and Music Society (FSSMF), Julius Sundbloms Stiftelse and Ålandsbanken.
Johanna still lives and works in Stockholm where she teaches at Södra Latin Music High School, as well as a busy freelance singer at big stages, clubs and churches. She continues to be a guest teacher and lecturer at other music schools and produced a big concert 2017 with 100 children and Jojje Wadenius band. The same year she was commissioned to compose a jazz piece for a big DUNK festival in Vasa, Skolmusik 2017, in Finland, that was performed with 1000 children and orchestra. The piece ”Migrantvisan” with jazz influences and improvisational harmonies was recorded and broadcasted live on Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE.
Since 2015 Johanna’s family is a foster family to an unaccompanied child from Afghanistan who she gives voice lessons to and involves in her own concerts. They have also made a music video together with ethnic songs from Åland and Afghanistan.
Johanna Grüssner has recorded around 25 albums, most of them her own productions. Most of them released on BlueMusicGroup and Prophone/NaxosJazz.
Johanna has been invited guest artist in several TV-shows such as Allt ljus på, Bettina S, Strömsö, Circus Familj, Svenska Dagen etc.
Johanna has worked with John Snyder, Jojje Wadenius, Hector Bingert, André Ferrari, Fredrik johnson, Erik Söderlind, Ulf Johansson Werre, Klas Lindqvist, Lill Lindfors, Anders Berglund, Putte Wickman, Svante Thuresson, Svante Henryson, Mikko-Ville Luolajan-Mikkola, New York Voices, Jane Monheit, John Storgårds, Roger Pontare, Patrick Wingren, Mika Pohjola, Peter Nordwall, Margareta Bengtson, Geir Rönning, Magnus Bäcklund, Molly Pettersson Hammar, Severi Pyysalo, Niklas Winter, Andreas Fliflet etc.