Welcome back to another week of Fashion Fridays with Joanna! Today, as we wrap up Black history month, we will be taking a look into the life of Beverly Ann Johnson, an American model, actress, singer, and businesswoman. Johnson rose to fame when she became the first Black model to appear on the cover of American Vogue 1974. The following year, Johnson became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Elle. The New York Times named Johnson one of the 20th century's most influential people in fashion in 2008.
Beverly Ann Johnson was born October 13, 1952, to middle-class parents. Her father was a machine operator and her mother was a surgical technician. Beverly attended School 74, Fillmore Junior High, and Bennett High School in Buffalo. In her early years, she was mostly interested in sports, particularly swimming. She won several swimming championships and almost made the U.S. national team in the 100-yard freestyle for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, Mexico. She also had big dreams of becoming an attorney which she pursued at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts on a full scholarship. While still a college student, she started modeling with the encouragement of friends.
Beverly Ann Johnson Vogue cover 1974
Road To Success
Beverly had never considered modeling until her friends at Northeastern suggested she explore possibilities in the industry. In an interview, she even went into detail about how she always disregarded the idea of modeling. In the same interview, she tells the story of working a summer job in a fashion boutique before she went off to college when a woman approached her and presented her with a business card and an opportunity to pursue fashion. While on summer break in 1971, at the age of 19, Beverly sought out opportunities at modeling agencies. After she was turned down by a number of prestigious agencies, she put the number of the mysterious lady that she met during her summer job to use. The lead to her working with Glamour and Vogue Magazine. Gaining this position and maintaining it was not easy for Beverly. Like many women in the industry today, she was told to lose weight. After her first appearance on the cover of Glamour, Beverly's career took off. With the success of her now thriving career, Beverly no longer desired her career in law. She left Northeastern to focus on her modeling career. In the next few years, she appeared on the cover of Glamour six more times. Her appearance on the cover of the fashion magazine broke multiple racial barriers and opened so many lanes in the modeling world at the time. By the mid-1970s, she was an in-demand magazine model. Vogue approached Beverly to be on its cover of the August 1974 issue; she accepted and graced the cover, becoming the first African American woman on the cover of one of the largest magazines in the world. Her cover was so popular that Vogue placed her there again in its special June 1975 “American Woman” edition. Her popularity became global when she became the first Black woman on the cover of Elle. In an interview with a website for the clothing line Peter Nygard Signature, she was quoted saying,
"Becoming the first African American to grace the cover of Vogue magazine in August 1974 was a historical movement in time, the color barrier was broken."
Over the course of her career, Beverly appeared on more than 500 magazine covers, including other leading magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Essence. She also worked as a runway model for designers such as Halston and appeared in multiple TV commercials. She wanted to build on her popularity with Black women by creating her own brand of Black cosmetics. She also thought about making her own doll. She accomplished both of these business ventures in a matter of a few years.
She used her modeling success to branch out into film, television, and music. She appeared in shows such as Martin, Law & Order, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and more. In the mid to late 1990s, Johnson also became an author. In 1994, she published a book called True Beauty: Secrets of Radiant Beauty for Women of Every Age and Color. Johnson started a successful business, the Beverly Johnson Hair Collection, which makes wigs and hair products.
Beverly faced several bumps on her road to success. She got married twice, once with her real estate agent Billy Potter in 1971, later divorcing him in 1974. On May 8, 1977, She married businessman and music producer Danny Sims. A year after being married they had their daughter Anansa Sims on December 27, 1978, in New York City. Beverly and Danny’s marriage did not end on the best note. She had some health concerns, including thyroid problems, perhaps caused by dieting to keep her weight down. Johnson later admitted that she was anorexic and bulimic. Even in the motion of going through personal troubles, she held her status as an iconic figure in the industry. Beverly Ann Johnson is a living icon. She’s a businesswoman, model, actress, writer, director, and singer.