A Tribute to Carol Johnson

The Children’s Music Network lost a long-time colleague and friend, Carol Johnson of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who died at the age of seventy-eight in November 2019 following a stroke.

Carol Annette Noeldner was born in 1941 on a family dairy farm in rural Wisconsin. As a schoolgirl, Carol taught herself to play guitar, piano, and coronet, and became a young organist at the family church. She evolved into a singer-songwriter and performed as one of the five Noeldner Sisters.

CD: Might as Well Make It Love
CD: Might as Well Make It Love
CD: Fine Weather
CD: Fine Weather

Carol graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in music and married fellow UW grad Barry Johnson. In the late 1960s, Carol gave birth to her son, Luke, and daughter, Shalom. In the 1970s, she recorded her first folk album, Family Reunion, and performed her music at clubs, concerts, and music festivals. She had a tremendous gift for poetically simple lyrics of love, peace, nature, and faith. One of her earliest playful songs, “Love Grows One By One,” was written as a wedding gift for two dear friends. “Love Grows” resonated joyously with everyone who heard it—especially young families and children. It became Carol’s signature song and launched her into children’s music.

In 1981, Carol collected “Love Grows” with thirteen other original children’s songs into her delightful second LP, Might As Well Make It Love, on which Luke and Shalom both sing. Families, schools, festivals, churches, and the children’s music industry praised her creativity and message. Might As Well Make It Love went on to win a Parents’ Choice Award. Over the next three years, Carol wrote and produced two more celebrated albums, Isn’t It Good To Know (1982) and Fine Weather (1984), and eventually built her extraordinary Music With a Message performance program around her three children’s albums. She attended CMN conferences where she shared her songs, her love of children, and her ready smile.

Carol’s family has graciously provided a free link to all the tracks of her albums on Soundcloud: Her CDs and songbooks are available for sale on her website: Read more about Carol Johnson on her website: or at

Carol Johnson: Remembrances

Carol and I met through CMN, both being in the Midwest Region. Though we’d met face to face briefly at a CMN conference, our relationship got started when I asked her for a mechanical license for “Love Grows One By One.” I began to get emails and notes from her. Out of the blue, Carol sent another song that she thought I would like, and “Shine, Shine, Shine” became the second of her songs I recorded. She was so pleased with the responses to her song that I relayed to her regularly, such as a school that made it their annual theme. I sent her the school t-shirt with the title emblazoned on it. About ten years ago, Carol sent two cassettes of never-recorded songs she’d written. In her lovely voice with just her light touch on her guitar she sang to me with a smile in her voice. I know where this lyric in “Shine, Shine, Shine” comes from: “I’ve got a great big light, deep inside.”

Carol always got in touch (sometimes with a delightful phone call) when I sent out regional news. I considered her a friend, and her voice is missed.

—Carole Stephens

I first met Carol Johnson in the summer of 1993. I was at the Midwest People’s Music Network annual conference at Masthouse, a wonderful, vibrant fixture of the music scene in Woodstock, Illinois. Several of us drove north into Wisconsin that Sunday morning to rendezvous for a Midwest CMN gathering. Carol drove down from Michigan to join us. I was struck by her warm and loving energy as well as by the wonderful songs she shared. I learned “Love Grows One By One” and started singing it in my children’s music classes immediately. I’d sing the chorus as a closing song at the end of each toddler and preschool class, teaching the children to sing and sign: “Love grows one by one, two by two, four by four. Love grows round like a circle and comes back knocking at your front door.” A song that sums up Carol in a nutshell—a simple beautiful melody with words straight from the heart.

I didn’t see Carol often, only periodically at CMN gatherings. I worked with her to include songs from her Circle of Peace album in the original Peace Resources Pages for CMN, and years later we collaborated again to add them to the Peace Songbook in the CMN Song Library. She was always so generous, enthusiastic, and supportive.

The story about Carol I love the most came when she told me that she loved to hike. One time she was hiking in the mountains and when she got to the mountaintop, she sang “Love Grows One By One” at the top of her lungs, sending it out to fly into the world in all directions. And that is exactly what it did.

Carol is the kind of songwriter whose songs are real gifts. They are gentle treasures, there for the deeper moments that we find ourselves in. For me, this is especially true of her song, “Peaceful.” Carol sang it to me at a Midwest CMN gathering when we were hanging out between workshops. She said she had either written it, collected it, or evolved it, she wasn’t even quite sure anymore, but it was one she often sang. It has a slow and beautiful melody and simple motions. This became a song I’d often sing to help calm things down in a class, as a closing song in a program, as a song in profound family moments. I’ve always recognized that songs can be vessels, to shape and hold and spill over any way the spirit moves, and this song does that and so much more.

All above me peaceful
All below me peaceful
All before me peaceful
All behind me peaceful
All around me peaceful
All within me peaceful

—Barb Tilsen