THE first Black-owned company to make a successful response to the new era of words-and-pictures journalism, Johnson Publishing Co., was also the first wholly-owned Black company to produce a national TV awards show and a national interview show.
The first JPC-TV production, which made its debut in 1975 after a decade of study and preparation, was The EBONY Music Awards, presented in association with Merv Griffin, who turned over his regular syndicated show to the precedent-setting special.
Announcing the new departure, JPC Chairman John H. Johnson described the effort as a "national progression for our company, which has pioneered in picture technology and is the only wholly-owned Black company with the resources and experience needed to bring a Black perspective to this new and vital medium."
True to his word, The EBONY Music Awards program provided a new image of Blacks behind and in front of the camera. Senior JPC staff members and Los Angeles businessman Edgar Charles were centrally involved in the major economic and production decisions, and the camera angles and selected shots gave new depth to the phrase "in living color:"
Instead of the typical daytime interviews and chatter, a stellar array of musical talent, including Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles, headed a parade of celebrities who honored the winners of EBONY magazines "Black Music Poll."
Shirley Caesar, Roberta Flack, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, B.B. King and Stevie Wonder were just some of the winners whose sometime emotional reactions were taped before a black-tie audience at the Hollywood Plaza. Musical legends Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Loster Young were honored posthumously.
Buoyed by the success of that first show, the company moved to a new plateau three years later with a new awards program, The American Black Achievement Awards, which was the first and is still the only American TV show to honor Black excellence in arts, business, public service, religion as well as athletics and entertainment. Originally produced in association with David Marmel and Carl Meyers, ABAA became a wholly-owned division of Johnson Publishing Company in 1983.
Since its debut, the show has been hosted by some of the biggest names in entertainment, including James Earl Jones, Gladys Knight, Sammy Davis Jr., Debbie Allen, Natalie Cole, Clifton Davis Jr. and Patti LaBelle.
Among the educators, political leaders and entertainers who have received the prestigious "Lifetime Achievement Award" and the "Trailblazer" awards are Ella Fitzgerald, Dr. Benjamin Mays, Leontyne Price, Count Basic, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Nelson Mandela.
The show has also featured a large number of major White stars, most notably Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, Bea Arthur and Carol Channing.
The awards program has broken new ground in using Black talent. Sammy Davis Jr. and Mark Warren served as directors, and. Debbie Alien was the choreographer-director of one segment. The show has also developed major production talent, including Terri McCoy, the director of In Living Color, who was stage director of several shows.
The executive producer of the awardwinning show is Chairman and Publisher John H. Johnson. A Johnson Publishing Co. staffcommittee, consisting of the publisher, President Linda Johnson Rice, June Rhinehart, Lydia Davis Eady, Robert E. …