Tag Archives: Ebony/Jet

Devin Mays of Rebuild Foundation on the lasting legacy of black media giant Johnson Publishing

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Reclaimed Soul host Ayana Contreras in conversation with Devin Mays of Rebuild Foundation about the legacy of Ebony Magazine, Jet Magazine, & Fashion Fair Cosmetics, as well as A Johnson Publishing Story (an exhibit at Stony Island Arts Bank). 

Ebony January 1968For more the legacy of Ebony Magazine (and its parent company, Johnson Publishing Company), click here. For information about events at the Stony Island Arts Bank, visit rebuild-foundation.org/events/site/s…nd-arts-bank/

Reclaimed Soul airs Thursdays at 8pm with a rebroadcast on Sundays at 8am on Vocalo 91.1fm or stream live vocalo.org/player

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Dorothy Donegan: Chicago’s own Jazz Cover Girl

Darkjive focuses mainly on soul music born and bred here in Chicago during the golden era of Chicago Soul: the 1960s through the late 1970s. Anyone who knows me, however, knows I am passionate about a variety of music that has come out of our city: especially soul, blues, and jazz.

That said, recently an old cover of local titan-of-print Ebony Magazine (from July of 1946!) caught my eye for both the byline and the cover girl:

The cover featured local jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan, and the byline read: “Is Jazz Going Highbrow?”

A graduate of DuSable High School, Donegan studied music with Walter Dyett, as did so much of our homegrown talent (like Nat King Cole). She was noted for her abundance of sass and personality (which was apparent in her stage show, but never really translated to record sales). That personality helped win her a following in Chicago’s South Side club scene which featured spots like the Crown Propeller Lounge where a contortionist named Atlantis (though some say she was called Aquanetta) performed in a fish tank (pictured at left in 1954 with King Kolax… underwater).

That abundance of personality proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff once wrote:

“Her flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality.”

Dorothy Donegan won an American Jazz Master fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1992. She was 70 years old.

Very sassy, indeed.

Below, Dorothy Donegan performing in 1945. Jive and jitterbug on!


Ebony is Back…. and fly!

Oh. Goodness. To be clear, Ebony never left us, but it did sort of lose influence in the Black Community. But, wow, have they stepped up. And, I’m prouder than ever to pass by their headquarters here in Chicago (on South Michigan Avenue).

To give a little background, Ebony (launched in the 1940s by the Johnson Family) was by far the most popular, influential Black Magazine in America for decades. At its peak, Ebony was home to Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Moneta Sleet, Jr., among other giants in the publishing field. By the 21st Century, their popularity (along with magazines in general) had waned, and by 2010, they well undersold expectations and were in need of an aesthetic revamp. There was talk of selling the magazine. But, first they gave it another shot.

The first move they made was to bring in Desiree Rogers as CEO. Then they hired Amy DuBois Barnett (of Honey Magazine [sadly shuttered circa 2006]) as Editor, and brought in young, fresh talent from Vanity Fair and a slew of other sources. Next, the team commenced in the first full overhaul of the magazine since 1945.  The first revamped Ebony was published in April 2011.

In recent offerings, they’ve captured cutting edge yet approachable black culture, art, music, and thought (recent features have covered topics as varied as the recent retrospective of Black visual artist Glenn Ligon, underground soul /vocalist Jesse Boykins III, what Black Fashion Bloggers were wearing during New York’s Fashion Week [hint: it was fly], and cultural critic Touré unpacked the rhetoric of “Post-Blackness“). They also represent the full tonal spectrum of black beauty in their fashion/beauty sections, something that had been slipping a bit in recent years. For more on Ebony’s legacy in the fashion world, click here.

In short, they worked it out. It shows. Check out September 2011’s cover, above.

As of 2011, Ebony’s circulation averaged 1,235,865 (a 10.9 percent increase), and Jet’s swelled to 820,557 (a 7.6 percent increase).

Jive on.


Ebony in the digital age

 

Chicago’s own Ebony Magazine has digitized its archives.  Celebrate.

Ebony was the premier photojournalism and news magazine of the Black Diaspora for decades.   During its peak, Ebony featured groundbreaking work by photographers such as Gordon Parks (work seen below), as well as thought provoking articles that exposed sometimes obscure corners of the “black experience” (Mixed race children of WWII G.I.s in Japan, black scuba divers, black opera singers, et al.).  A beautiful thing.

 A contender has yet to step up to the plate and pick up that mantle.

click here to access the archive that goes back more than fifty years. Jive on!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Eunice Johnson: Wrought a Roadshow of Dreams

 

Eunice Johnson (1916-2010), widow of Ebony/Jet Publisher John H. Johnson, was more than Black Media’s First Lady.  As Creator and Director of the Ebony Fashion Fair (an all black roadshow of haute couture), she paved the way for generations of black models from Beverly Johnson and Naomi Sims to Naomi Campbell.  In fact, Richard Roundtree (“Shaft”) was a Fashion Fair model before he was kicking tail on the big screen. 

In the show, which was started in 1961, she included some of the most fashion forward designers, including Yves Saint Laurent (pictured with Mrs. Johnson, above).  In a time when Chicago was in many ways the hub of culture and information that bound the Black Community together (i.e., the nationally recognized Chicago Defender, Ebony, Jet, and a world renowned music and arts scene), Mrs. Johnson took her Fashion Crusade to the streets in towns both near and remote.  Accordingly, sewing machines buzzed each season, inspired by the roadshow of dreams.  Her shows, as well as so many of those classic Ebony Magazine fashion layouts, presented our people as we were (and still are) striving to be: free and uplifted. Strutting. Gliding.

As if that weren’t enough, Ebony Fashion Fair, which grew into the world’s largest traveling fashion show,  annually encompasses a nearly 180-city tour of the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.  It has raised more than $55 million for various charities.

And it keeps us dreaming.  To me, that is her legacy.  She brought the dream to our door.

Jive on!