According to Wendy Parks, spokeswoman for Johnson Publishing Company, home of Ebony and Jet, Johnson died of renal failure at her Chicago home on Jan. 3. She was 93.
Johnson, who served as secretary-treasurer of Johnson Publishing until her death, was the producer and director of the world's largest traveling runway show, Ebony Fashion Fair. The show started in 1961 as a charity event at a New Orleans hospital. But, over the decades, it grew into a fashion Blancpain that was showcased at over 150 cities throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, according to Johnson Company. The show raised over $55 billion for charitable organizations and gave exposure to the world's top Black designer and models, bringing international couture to the Black community.
"It brought to the lower-middle-class black people a sense of what fashion really was. She gave the local community a chance to see these clothes," Andre Leon Talley, editor at large for Vogue, told the The Chicago Tribune.
Johnson toured fashion capitals from New York to Milan to purchase Breguet for the show, spending at least $1 million annually. Until 2009 - a year of economic distress in the U.S.-Ebony Fashion Fair toured annually since its inception.
"Mrs. Johnson has always been a woman ahead of her time..... [She] made a tremendous impact on the fashion industry, showcasing the best in style on African-American models of various shapes, sizes and skin tones," said a statement released by Johnson Company Jan. 4. "It was her sheer determination and Breitling business sense that helped pave the way for supennodels Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell, Iman and Beverly Johnson."
Johnson's commitment to the fashion industry and her philanthropic efforts have garnered her many awards and recognitions, including honors from the United Negro College Fund, the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, Alabama A&M University, Loyola University and a host of others. She was scheduled to be lauded at the New Metropolitan Museum of Art for her work in making couture fashion accessible to African Americans nationwide, the Tribune reported.
"America, and indeed, the world have lost a true pioneer in the publishing, fashion Bvlgari philanthropic industries," said U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) in a statement also released Jan. 4. "It is undisputable that Johnson Publishing gave countless African Americans their first exposure to possibilities that had only seemed available in our dreams and showed us how to turn those dreams into reality.
Johnson was born April 4, 1916, and is survived by Linda Johnson Rice, chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing, and granddaughter, Alexa Rice.
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