Inspirational Woman Of The Day: Beverly Johnson

Beverly Johnson

Born in 1952 in Buffalo, NY; daughter of a machine operator and a surgical technician; married Billy Potter (a real estate agent), 1971 (divorced, 1973); children: Anansa (daughter) with Danny Simms.
EducationAttended Northeastern University.

Career

Professional fashion model, actress, and singer. First hired by Glamour magazine, 1971; first black to be featured on the cover of Vogue magazine, 1974.

Life’s Work

In the summer of 1971, a stunning nineteen-year-old beauty walked into the office of Glamour magazine and asked for a modeling job. Editors took one look at Beverly Johnson and hired her on the spot. Within months she became one of America’s most sought after models. She was the first black woman to make the cover ofVogue magazine, setting a trend for black models to follow.

Johnson was born in 1952 in Buffalo, New York. Her unusual bloodline contributes to her striking features–the classic nose, high cheek bones, and thick black hair. Johnson’s father, a machine operator, is part Blackfoot Indian and her mother, a surgical technician, is a Louisiana Creole. As a tall, lanky child, Johnson often compared herself to her younger sister, whom she considered to have inherited the beauty in the family. Johnson’s agility and love for sports brought her within a hair’s breadth of qualifying for the 1968 Olympics in the 100-yard freestyle swimming competition. She entered Northeastern University in Boston on a full academic scholarship, following a pre-law curriculum. But her outstanding beauty and 5-foot-eight, 115-pound figure made her an obvious candidate for a modeling career. At the urging of her friends Johnson headed with her mother for New York City’s Madison Avenue in the summer of 1971 in search of a modeling job. After several unsuccessful attempts, she tried her luck at the office of Glamour magazine. A quick study of Johnson told the editors she had exactly what they wanted. She was hired on the spot. In the fashion world, Johnson quickly outdistanced the others. When she first appeared on Glamour ‘s cover the magazine’s circulation doubled and set a record. In two years, she was on the front of Glamour magazine six times.

Johnson’s so-called “supergirl next door” image captured the attention of Americans of all races, places, and walks of life. In an interview with Glamour, Johnson recalled, “When I started being on the cover {of Glamour }–white southern readers–for the first time–said they wanted to be me. Black models never had that positive a reaction before. Maybe the world had evolved. Maybe they saw through my eyes that I’m a terrific person–very honest, positive, optimistic. I always see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Others qualities might be added to explain her success: grace, charm, and professionalism are words often used by associates to describe Johnson.

When Eileen Ford, who, with her husband operates New York’s foremost model agency, caught the perfumed wind of Johnson’s promising career, she was quick to recruit Johnson. Ford is credited with shaping Johnson’s career. Through the Ford Agency, Johnson was soon booked from morning to night. She worked as a runway model for Halston, sang “Come On and Fly with Me” in a television advertisement for National Airlines, and appeared in other commercials; at age 23 she was earning over $100,000 a year.

When approached by Vogue in 1974 to do a cover, Johnson was more than ready. She had felt for some time that she was exactly what Vogue wanted. The magazine’s editors agreed. Johnson was black and beautiful–and a class act. She had, as Vogue said when she appeared on the front cover, “the today look,” which the editors, as quoted by Ted Morgan in the New York Times Magazine, went on to define as, “a natural look … wholesome without being bland, strong without being tough, a girl who has character rather than a rigidly painted mask of beauty. It is the girl with great skin, great hair, great teeth, great eyes, a great figure and a great personality, the supergirl next door.”

Johnson was such a smash hit that her face reappeared on the June 1975 cover of the “American Woman” Vogue issue. She was also the first black woman to appear on the cover of the French magazine Elle. Johnson soon became America’s most sought after fashion model. According to Morgan, when Johnson was asked how it felt to be the biggest black model in the business, she said that she wasn’t simply the biggest black model, but “the biggest model, period.” Johnson was proud that she was booked, not as a black model, but simply as a model. She felt she had set a trend that would make it easier for other black models to follow.

Johnson has not limited her career to modeling. She took voice lessons for many years, and in 1977 she teamed up with rock singer Phil Anastasia for two singles. She also came out with an album called Don’t Lose the Feeling, which Stereo Review called a “capable performance … in a sexy, confident style.” Johnson has dabbled in acting as well, appearing in the 1975 documentary Land of Negritude, which was filmed on location on the Senegalese island of Goree. She has also made feature film appearances, most notably as the kidnapped wife of missionary-doctor Michael Caine in the 1979 movie Ashanti. In addition, Johnson has written a beauty book called Guide to a Life of Beauty, launched a line of skin care products tailored to the needs of black women, and introduced her own line of Beverly Johnson dolls.

Johnson is committed to various social issues and charitable causes, including Africare and the Atlanta Black Education Fund. She and her daughter, Anansa, have appeared in AIDS Awareness Campaign print advertisements. Johnson continues to model, and she shoots guest spots for Black Entertainment Television’s Video Soul.In the early 1990s she made television appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Arsenio Hall Show.

Works

Writings

  • Guide to a Life of Beauty, Times Books, 1981.

Further Reading

Sources

  • Glamour, April 1989.
  • Newsweek, September 11, 1978.
  • New York Times Magazine, August 17, 1975.
  • Stereo Review, May 1980.
  • Time, June 16, 1975.

— Heather Paterson Rhodes

Comments

  1. icittadiniprimaditutto says:

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  2. bagladyboutique says:

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