Francis Johnson Fellowships

Proposals due March 1, 2021

Francis (Frank) Johnson was arguably the preeminent band leader in Philadelphia and one of the most popular black composers prior to the American Civil War. Among his 200 original compositions, he wrote patriotic marches, European ballads, cotillions, quicksteps, and Ethiopian minstrel songs, which he performed for General Lafayette during his visit to Philadelphia in 1824 and Queen Victoria during his band’s European tour of 1837. The Library Company holds a wealth of Johnson printed materials, including sheet music and handbills. Most notably, the Library Company of Philadelphia holds a manuscript book that Johnson gifted to his patron Phoebe Rush, which includes 80 compositions, some of which have never before been published.

The Francis Johnson Fellowship will support two fellows—a humanities scholar and a creative practitioner—as they delve into the compositions of this vital early-nineteenth-century artist. These paired fellows will be encouraged to explore a manuscript book of 80 compositions (some unpublished) in conjunction with printed materials held at both the Library Company and at the Kislak Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The scholar might choose to create a pop-up exhibition or research guide, finding aid, or white paper to enrich the library’s digital assets; the creative practitioner might opt to perform or creatively reinterpret compositions from the book, many of which leave significant room for improvisation, at a public event to be hosted by the Library Company of Philadelphia in the summer of 2022. However, both the scholar and creative practitioner are encouraged to think beyond or across these outcomes.

Manuscript by Phoebe Rush

Each Francis Johnson Fellow will receive a stipend of $5000, a $2500 research fund to be defined by the fellow and program director, and lodging at the Library Company’s Cassatt House residence for four to eight weeks. The Library Company will also cover each fellow’s travel expenses (up to $500).

The stipend will be awarded in three segments: each fellow will receive $3000 upon arrival at the Library Company in the summer of 2021 (dates to be defined by the fellow and program director); $1000 upon receipt of a working paper or prospectus (within six months of the residency); and $1000 upon receipt of the final project or performance (by the summer of 2022).

Both fellows will be featured at the Library Company’s 290th Annual Dinner (attendance encouraged) and interviewed for the library’s podcast.


Although the two fellows needn’t fulfill their residencies for the same four- to eight-week period in the summer of 2021, we do ask that they dovetail for at least two weeks because we expect they will benefit from one another’s expertise. In fact, as soon as we have selected the fellows, we will connect them with the hope that they begin building a collaborative relationship. Ideally, the final projects will complement or enrich one another, though we acknowledge that this may not be feasible depending upon the deliverables.

We expect each fellow to commit at least four consecutive weeks at the Library Company, during which they will be expected to interact with our other research fellows, participate in weekly colloquia, and attend public programs. While we allow for changes to proposals during the research period – this, after all, is the point of research – we expect that any changes be discussed with and approved by the program director prior to completion of residency.


Applications will be evaluated based upon applicants’ background or expertise, the merit of their proposals, and the feasibility of their project plans. Given that the Library Company will award two concurrent fellowships, the review committees will try to select fellows with complementary proposals and records of service and collaboration.

Evaluation will be conducted in two stages. First, a committee of subject area specialists at the Library Company will vet each proposal’s content and workplan. Second, an innovation award committee of leaders in higher education, art, and cultural heritage will evaluate vetted applications, considering both the merit of proposals and possibilities for substantive collaboration, before selecting the two Francis Johnson Fellows.


We welcome proposals from creative practitioners and scholars in all fields and at all career stages, including graduate students; contingent, junior, and senior faculty; as well as independent scholars and freelance artists. The Library Company anticipates individual applications; however, if an applicant has already identified their prospective collaborator, they may submit a team application.

To apply for a Francis Johnson Fellowship, please send a proposal (no more than 1000 words) plus a preliminary budget and timeline, resume or c.v., and one letter of reference to by March 1, 2021. Your proposal should include some discussion of your background, experience, and expertise with special attention to service and collaborative projects; interest in Francis Johnson or the Library Company’s holdings; and project plan with timeline, budget, and deliverables.

Should you have any questions, please contact Dr. William D. Fenton, Director of Research and Public Programs, via the aforementioned email address.

Announcements will be made in April 2021.

The Innovation Fellowship Program is made possible by the generosity of our Founding Sponsor Randall M. Miller and Sustaining Sponsors Louise M. and Peter J. Kelly, John C. and Christine K. Van Horne, and a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. To make a contribution to support future Innovation Fellowships, please contact Raechel Hammer, Chief Development Officer, at