Born on July 3, 1923, in Houma, Louisiana, John Maurice Hartman was reared in Chicago, Illinois. His close-knit family moved to “The Windy City” during The Great Migration when John was an infant, the youngest of six children. As with many African-Americans who moved and settled in northern, industrialized cities from southern, rural areas, the Hartman family sought various opportunities to improve, in every aspect, their life. One such opportunity would be for Johnny and it was in music.
As with many African-Americans, Hartman began singing and playing the piano in the Baptist church at the early age of eight years old. During his matriculation at the esteemed DuSable High School, he sang and studied music under the tutelage of the highly-regarded Captain Walter Dyett. Dyett, the music director of DuSable High School from 1935 until 1962, rigorously trained and nurtured numerous African-American artists, including Hartman, Nat “King” Cole, Bo Diddley, Dorothy Donegan, Redd Foxx, Eddie Harris and Dinah Washington, who was the pianist for the church in which Hartman sang.
Between the secular and non-secular, Hartman refined his own personal style as a balladeer. Hartman spoke on his style when he declared, according to Gregg Akkerman in his biography, The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story, “I was a cool singer even when I sang in church. That was just me, my style of singing.”