Beverly Johnson born in October 13, 1952 was the first Black woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue in August 1974. It had taken more than eight good decades without any person of color appearing on the cover of American Vogue.
She later became the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Elle magazine breaking the Fashion’s Glass Ceiling. The New York Times named Johnson one of the 20th century’s most influential people in fashion in 2008.
This opened many doors to the fashion world for African American women as a whole. By 1975, every major American fashion designer had begun using African-American models.
Johnson’s cover elevated her to a superstar, but the journey was hard and discouraging. After high school, Johnson went on to study criminal justice at Northeastern University. In college, she tried modelling and landed in Glamour.
While this was a good opportunity, Johnson wanted more. She wanted to be on the cover of Vogue. Talking to CNN, “Every model’s dream [is] to be on the cover of Vogue. You have arrived when you made the cover of Vogue.” She said.
Her managers did not think this was possible owing to her “skin”. She was rejected by legendary agent Eileen Ford, and later accepted by Ford Models.
“Everyone turned me down. The Eileen Ford model agency said I was too heavy. Then three days later, they called me back and said, ‘Oh you lost so much weight!’ but I hadn’t lost a pound.”
Johnson explains the issue faced by black models then.
“A lot of photographers just didn’t see your beauty. Many didn’t know how to light you. Kodak had to add darker colours to their spectrum so that the colour came out true.The hairdressers were just confused, they had probably never touched a black woman’s hair.”
Then the historic moment came in August 1974. Vogue photographer Francesco Scavullo, photographed Johnson. She only came to know about the cover when the magazine hit the newsstands. In those days, as a model, you didn’t know you were going to be on the cover until the magazine went on sale.
Her historic first earned her a place in history and she started getting calls from newspapers and magazines from all over the world. She would later go on to grace Vogue’s cover three more times and appear on more than 500 magazine covers.
Beverly was overtime known as more than just an American model, but also an actress, singer, and businesswoman. She released an album in 1979 on Buddah Records and wrote Beverly Johnson’s Guide to a Life of Health and Beauty.
In 2012, Johnson was the star of the reality series Beverly’s Full House which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
She had roles in the films Ashanti (1979), The Meteor Man (1993), Def Jam’s How to Be a Player (1997), and Crossroads (2002). She has appeared in guest spots on 7 television series, including Martin (TV series), Law & Order, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, The Parent ‘Hood and the Super Bowl episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun (1998).
She served for two seasons as a celebrity judge on the TV Land Series She’s Got the Look, a reality series, where women over 35 compete for a modelling contract and magazine spread.
In 2006, Johnson was honored at Oprah Winfrey’s Legends Ball along with Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Tina Turner and other female African Americans in entertainment.