EBONY AND JET, the historic magazines that reported on 20th century African American artists and inspired the work of a new generation of contemporary artists, have been sold to Clear View, a black-owned private equity firm. The Austin, Texas-based company purchased the titles from Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) in May for an undisclosed amount. The Chicago Tribune reported the sale yesterday.
Generations of African Americans grew up with Ebony and Jet magazines. Published for more than 70 years by a family-owned company, the titles have faced challenges. JPC has struggled to sustain advertising revenue and develop a successful business model for its digital platforms. Ebony, ebony.com, and jetmag.com will be published under a new company called Ebony Media and maintain their offices in Chicago and New York.
“We are excited about the future of Ebony Media and the opportunity to position the enterprise for long term growth. Our team has a true understanding of the Ebony brand as well as its legacy, and is committed to providing its audience with premium content across all media platforms,” Michael Gibson, CEO of Clear View Group and the new chairman of Ebony Media, told ebony.com.
“We are excited about the future of Ebony Media and the opportunity to position the enterprise for long term growth. Our team has a true understanding of the Ebony brand as well as its legacy.”
— Michael Gibson, new head of Ebony Media
Ebony magazine was founded in 1945 by John H. Johnson, offering readers wholesale coverage of the African American experience, including politics, culture, fashion and news. The publication, which emphasized photography, was aspirational, exposing subscribers to the lifestyles of Hollywood entertainers, civic and business leaders, and the arts. It was also informative, publishing groundbreaking coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, integration and the Black Power era.
Jet was established six years later in 1951. Providing a digest version of African American news, it became known for its “Beauty of the Week” feature. Jet ceased printing in 2014 becoming an all-digital publication.
HISTORICALLY, AMONG THE CIVIL RIGHTS ICONS, jazz legends, political personalities, TV, film and sports stars, artists and their work also appeared in the pages of the magazines. Charles White illustrated the August 1966 cover of Ebony magazine, a special issue on “The Negro Woman.” The magazine described White’s image as “a series of melancholy, yet proud female faces.”
Ebony’s February 1968 cover story (at right) explored the “Evolution of Afro-American Art: 1800-1950” (pages 116-122), an exhibition at the Great Hall of the City College of New York that presented the work of more than 50 artists, including White, Robert Duncanson, Charles Alston, Edmonia Lewis, Eldzier Cortor, Horace Pippin, Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Archibald Motley, and Augusta Savage.
Over the years, lengthy feature articles have been published in Ebony about White (July 1967, pages 25-36), Bearden (November 1975, pages 116-122), and Lawrence, who is described as the “greatest living painter” (September 1992, pages 62-66), among others,
More recently, the Johnson publications have inspired, served as source material, and driven the concepts of projects by contemporary artists.
Lorna Simpson has incorporated the black and white images of glamorous women from the pages of Ebony and Jet magazines in a series of watercolor collages. Theaster Gates has brought the contents of the Johnson Publishing Archive + Collections into his Stony Island Arts Bank in Chicago. The voluminous library is both an art installation and a functioning research resource. Granted unprecedented access to the company’s storied headquarters, David Hartt documented the Michigan Avenue building via film and photographs. (JPC sold the building to Columbia College in 2010, and vacated the premises in 2012. Columbia College just announced it plans to offload the property.)
Works by Simpson, Gates, Hartt, and a dozen others were presented in “Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet, and Contemporary Art,” a first-ever exhibition on the topic that was on view at the Studio Museum in Harlem (Nov. 13, 2014-March 8, 2015).
While JPC has spun off its publishing arm, it will continue to operate its Fashion Fair Cosmetics business, and maintain its legendary photo archive, which the Tribune reports is also for sale. Linda Johnson Rice, who was chairman of JPC, is joining the board of Ebony Media as chairman emeritus.
Rice said in a statement: “This is the next chapter in retaining the legacy that my father, John H. Johnson, built to ensure the celebration of African-Americans.” CT
TOP IMAGE: From left, Ebony, August 1966 (illustration by Charles White); Jet, June 2, 1955; and Ebony, May 1968.
Published to coincide with the exhibition, “Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art” features full-color images and contributions from Studio Museum in Harlem Director Thelma Golden, curator Lauren Haynes, and artist Hank Willis Thomas, among others. “Lorna Simpson: Works on Paper” accompanied an exhibition of her Ebony- and Jet-inspired watercolor portraits.