Graduation Year

2001

Breaking Through

By Jenell Anderson Hironimus  |  Published in the winter 2011-12 issue of Millikin Quarterly magazine.

Jarrett Johnson ’01 planned on becoming a civil or electrical engineer. But that all changed when a friend’s mother suggested Millikin.

Shortly after, an admission recruiter called Johnson and said he should apply for a Long-Vanderburg Scholarship, an award recognizing high scholastic achievement among students who demonstrate a commitment to diversity, leadership and community service. In 1997, he was awarded the scholarship and a music talent award, and the rest is history.

“I sold it to [my] mom as music business,” he says. “I thought I’d be involved in production side and stay in the background. Had I not come [to Millikin], I would not have realized my dream of pursuing music.”

Since then, the 2001 music grad has achieved undeniable success as a singer, songwriter and producer. A member of the award-winning a cappella ensemble formed at MU, Chapter 6, he has also worked with several music industry moguls, including Quincy Jones, David Foster and Michael Bublé.

In 2009, he and his wife, Andréa Hodges Johnson ’05, moved to Los Angeles from his hometown of Bloomington, Ill., to further pursue his songwriting and producing career.

“We realized it was time to make a change,” he says.

However, it wasn’t easy. According to Johnson, moving so far from the home he had always known was a huge leap of faith, not to mention a lot of hard work and determination.

“Living in L.A. is very expensive,” says Johnson. “You work hard to stay out there.”

Johnson started singing in his L.A. church, where he serves as a worship leader. He also began performing with m-pact, a Los Angeles a cappella group, which opened the door to an opportunity to give voice lessons.

“Every single time I start to think our time [in L.A.] is up, God just drops another blessing,” says Johnson.

His hard work and determination is paying off. Among his most recent achievements, Johnson received a Grammy Award last year for his participation as a writer, producer and vocalist on Michael Bublé’s “Crazy Love,” which was named Best Traditional Pop Album. He also is credited as a co-writer/arranger for the title track of Quincy Jones’ newest album "Q: Soul Bossa Nostra," released last year.

“My career is really starting to come to fruition now,” he says.

Johnson feels that his favorite written work, “Breakthrough,” featured on MTV’s show “Taking the Stage,” best expresses his journey.

“It’s so much more than a song,” says Johnson. “It’s a testament to what’s been happening in my life – it’s a proclamation.”

So what's the secret to his success?

According to Johnson, who shared his experience with Millikin students at a Career Connections program during Homecoming last fall, it’s all about relationships.

“Be around people that push you,” he says. “You can learn so much from them. Don’t be afraid or too proud to share. Leave your nerves and ego at the door because the work has to be done and done well.”

He also suggests taking advantage of networking opportunities and getting out there.

“Shyness is not going to get you where you want to be,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to open your mouth.”

And Johnson strongly believes in taking any opportunity he is given: “Even the smallest, seemingly mundane opportunity can open so many doors for you.”

Balancing a successful, busy career and home life can be challenging. Johnson credits his wife, Andréa, with being the real secret behind his success.

“My wife is extremely patient and supportive beyond measure,” he says.

Besides the support of his family and church, Johnson credits Millikin with preparing him for achieving success on the boulevard of broken dreams.

“Everything was in my reach by virtue of being a student here,” Johnson says. “It’s home.”