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VISIONS '24 Unsung Hero: Johnny Edwards
Bringing generations together through music
I’ve been gifted to do what I do, and I just like to give my gift to others.
Johnny Edwards

Down a hallway at Newton High School, students walk into a classroom that has no desks. It is the chorus room for the Rams. 

Standing at the front of the class greeting students with a big smile is Johnny Edwards, the director of choral activities at Newton High. Edwards is not at a smartboard writing equations or discussing historical events, instead, he is at a keyboard teaching his students different choral techniques. 

While his classroom is unorthodox, Edwards believes this allows him to provide a lasting impact in his students’ lives.

“I feel that I have an advantage because I’m doing what I love to do and a lot of these students I see all four years of high school. When you’re teaching math, sometimes you might see them a year,” Edwards said. “I get to see them change from maybe not even being able to match pitch to singing like they sing now. So it’s a joy just to watch them progress over time.”

Edwards’ passionate teaching style was recognized by the Georgia Music Educator Association (GMEA). In February, he was awarded District 4’s Teacher of the Year honor. 

District 4 comprises Newton Rockdale, Dekalb, Morgan and Jasper County schools as well as Dekalb City Schools. 

When the chairman of District 4 shared the news with Edwards, he could hardly believe it. 

“When they told me, at first I didn’t know what she was saying. She was saying, ‘You were voted teacher of the year for District 4.’ I asked, ‘How?’ She said, ‘Your colleagues in District 4 nominated you and voted you teacher of the year,” Edwards said. “I was emotional, overjoyed, overwhelmed. It was a great honor. It was one of the greatest honors I’ve had teaching.” 

Edwards was set on his musical path early when he was “born in the church” and was a church musician. He was a pastor’s kid who played around on the piano at home. 

With his dad in the military, Edwards and his family moved around a lot. At one point, all of the musicians left to go to other stations. As a result, Edwards’ dad put him on the spot. 

“My dad was like, ‘Hey Johnny, get on the piano.’ And I wasn’t at the level of playing. That was back in the day when you didn’t tell your parents, ‘No.’ I was like, ‘OK,’” Edwards said. “I just played whatever. I kind of learned just by watching people. That was before YouTube, before all that.”

Edwards “knows a little bit about the trumpet” by being in his high school’s band. However, his main two instruments are piano and organ, piano being his go-to. Jazz and gospel are his favorite styles of music as well. 

In addition to playing and teaching music, Edwards has also written some gospel and choral music and he has even had some pieces published. 

Through his love of music, Edwards earned a bachelor’s in music education from Georgia Southern University and a master’s in music education with an emphasis in choral music (MME) from Georgia College and State University. 

He plans to one day pursue a doctorate in composition. 

Away from the classroom, Edwards is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, assistant director of the Oxford Youth Singers and Oxford Singing Children through the Newton County Arts Association and is the minister of music at Solid Rock Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia. 

Edwards stressed that music and ministry are his top passions

“I love music in ministry,” Edwards said. “Even in school I just believe — even though music is my passion, I also believe it’s my ministry. You can’t really talk about ministry in school, but you can live a life that people notice.”

Musical notes may be running through Edwards’ veins with his life being so intertwined around this passion. When asked what he would do if he was not steeped in music, Edwards could not come up with a confident answer. 

“Wow. That’s funny. I was thinking of this question. I really don’t know. I know I like writing, books or something with math. I love math as well,” Edwards said. “I’d probably still be teaching somewhere or doing something in ministry somewhere. 

“That’s a hard one. I have no idea.” 

Edwards has been Newton High’s chorus director since 2016. Under his tutelage, Newton’s chorus has garnered superior ratings at the yearly evaluation, “Large Group Performance Evaluation.” 

He also teaches Advanced Placement music theory and music theory. 

Overall, Edward wants to use his various roles to help share his passion for music with the next generation.

“I’ve been gifted to do what I do,” Edwards said, “and I just like to give my gift to others.”