Black History Month Beauty: Beverly Johnson

Black History Month Beauty: Beverly Johnson

I’ve loved fashion magazines for as long as I can remember. My friends were buying Tiger Beat and Right ON, and I was buying Glamour and Vogue.  (And Cosmopolitan if I could sneak it past my mom).

But I will never forget the day I saw a face like mine on the cover of Glamour.  It was fresh and beautiful and black.  It was Beverly Johnson.

Here’s Beverly’s Bio:

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 of Vogue 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.

Read more:
Beverly at 50 something is still beautiful.  And can you believe she dated Chris Noth for years? Here she is last week at fashion week:

Getty Images

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One Response to Black History Month Beauty: Beverly Johnson

  1. Ron Eldridge February 22, 2011 at 4:30 am

    Wow Beverly is still very striking and beautiful… thanks or sharing this knowledge.

    And she is absolutely correct – she is “the biggest model, period.” Great read my friend.

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