The cause of death was not made public, said Latrina Blair, a spokeswoman for Johnson Publishing Co. in Chicago, Illinois.
Born in Arkansas City, Arkansas, in 1918, Johnson began his publishing career in 1942 as editor and publisher of Negro Digest, later Black World, according to a biography published on his company's Web site.
Three years later, he began publishing Ebony, which the company describes as "the No. 1 African-American magazine in the world."
And in 1951 he founded Jet, which the company calls "the world's No. 1 African-American newsweekly magazine."
Johnson Publishing Co. describes itself as the world's largest African-American-owned and -operated publishing company.
It also publishes books by black authors, owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics and produces television specials.
The National Association of Black Journalists on Monday hailed Johnson as a "visionary."
"We all grew up with Ebony, Jet and Johnson publications. Mr. Johnson was a pioneer, a visionary, and an inspiration to us all," association president Bryan Monroe said in a news release.
"He is responsible for the careers and success of hundreds of black journalists and his voice will be missed."
Johnson began his career as a clerk at Supreme Life Insurance Co., where he worked his way up to the job of chairman and chief executive officer.
He knew Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and served on the boards of Dillard Department Stores, Bell & Howell, Chrysler, Conrail, Continental Bank, Arthur D. Little, Supreme Life Insurance, 20th Century Fox and Zenith Electronics.
He is survived by his wife, Eunice, and their daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who is president and chief executive officer of Johnson Publishing Co.
Born January 19, 1918 in rural Arkansas City, Arkansas, John H. Johnson was the grandson of slaves His father Leroy Johnson was killed in a sawmill accident when "young Johnny" was eight years of age. His mother Gertrude Jenkins Johnson further impoverished did not give hope and her faith they could have more than what Arkansas offered. She saved her meager earnings as a cook and washerwoman for years until she could afford to move her family to Chicago.
There, Johnson was exposed to something he never knew existed: middle class blacks. He attended an all black high school during the day and poured over self-improvement books at night. His classmates at DuSable High were Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx and future entrepreneur William Abernathy.
Johnson is the founder, publisher, chairman and CEO of the Johnson Publishing Company Inc., Chicago, Ill., the largest black-owned publishing company in the world. Ebony is the nation's number one African-American -oriented magazine with a circulation of 1.7 million and a monthly readership of 11 million.
Johnson Publishing Company also has a book division and employs more than 2,600 people with sales of over $388 million.
Johnson Publishing owns Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the number one makeup and skin care company for women of color around the world and Supreme Beauty products, hair care for men and women and is involved in television production and produces the Ebony Fashion Fair, the world's largest traveling fashion show, which has donated over $47 million to charity. The show visits more than 200 cities in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
Johns H. Johnson serves on the boards of directors of Dillard's Inc., and he has served on the boards of First Commercial Bank, Little Rock; Dial Corporation; Zenith Radio Corporation; and Chrysler Corporation.
A Chronology of Achievement
1933 -- Moves with his mother to Chicago, part of African-America's Great Migration and enrolled in DuSable High School
1936 -- on graduation invited to speak at a dinner held by the Urban League.
President of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company, Harry Pace was so impressed with Johnson's speech that he offered him a job and a scholarship to attend college part-time. Late 30s dropped his studies at the University of Chicago
1939 -- 21 years old and becomes editor of Pace's in-house magazine. Collecting articles culled from national publications, Johnson realizes he's struck gold.
1941 -- married Eunice Walker and assumed a full-time position at Supreme Liberty Life.
1942 (November) -- borrowed $500 against his mother's furniture and started Johnson Publishing Company. Got idea for Negro Digest, the forerunner of Ebony, while selecting articles for Pace to keep abreast of current events of interest to blacks.
1942 -- launched the Negro Digest, which took a serious look at racial issues and featured articles from prominent black and white writers. Office of Johnson Publishing Co. on the second floor of Chicago's Supreme Life Insurance Co. building in a room in the private law office of Earl B. Dickerson.
1942 (June) -- circulated 50,000 of Negro Digest, modeled on Reader's Digest but aimed at African-Americans.
1943 (October) -- readership soared of Negro Digest to 100,000 when one of his regular contributor columns, "If I was a Negro" was penned by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. With no competition cash was raked in.
1943 -- the publisher bought the company's first building to house EBONY and its sister publication Negro Digest at 5619 South State Street in Chicago.
1945 -- launched Ebony, a breakthrough vehicle for national advertisers to target black middle-class markets.
1949 -- opened first major building, a converted funeral parlor at 1820 South Michigan Ave. Remained the company headquarters for 23 years
1951 -- created Jet (1951, a pocket-sized weekly publication that highlighted news of African-Americans in the social limelight, political arena, entertainment, business, and the sports world. With presently a readership of over eight million.
1957 -- accompanied Vice President Richard M. Nixon on a special goodwill tour to nine African countries
1959 -- accompanied Vice President Nixon to Russia and Poland.
1961 -- appointed by President John F. Kennedy as Special U.S. Ambassador to the Independence Ceremonies of the Ivory Coast; and
1963 -- appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as Special United States Ambassador to the Independence Ceremonies of Kenya.
1965 -- received NAACP's coveted Spingarn Medal for the highest and most achievements by an African American
1966 -- appointed by President Johnson to the National Selective Service Commission.
1969 -- received the Horatio Alger Award and the USC Journalism Alumni Association's Distinguished Achievement Award
1970 -- appointed by President Nixon as a member of the President's Commission for the Observance of the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations.
1971 -- moved Johnson Publishing to its new 11-story headquarters on Chicago's fashionable Michigan Avenue, becoming the first black-owned business to be located in the Loop.
1982 -- names as the first black to the Forbes' list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
1987 -- Black Journalists' Lifetime Achievement Award
1990 -- estimated personal wealth $150 million.
1993 -- received The Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Entrepreneurial Excellence Award
1996 -- received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the nation can bestow on a citizen, from President Bill Clinton
2001 -- received the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame Award sponsored through the Sam M. Walton College of Business of the University of Arkansas
2002 -- received the Vanguard Award and The Trumpet Award
Howard University honors publishing pioneer: John H. Johnson: School of Communications named
HAILED as a pioneering communicator who changed the color and content of American media, EBONY Publisher John H. Johnson was celebrated at Howard University, which named its journalism school the John H. Johnson School of Communications.
An audience of educators, students and national leaders witnessed the naming, which coincided with the opening convocation of the 136th academic year on the Washington, D.C., campus of the historic institution. The principal speaker, Black Enterprise Publisher Earl G. Graves Sr., called Johnson his friend and mentor, adding:
"John Johnson was the first publisher to open the eyes of Madison Avenue to the multibillion-dollar influence of the African-American consumer market. By showing the profitability of using Black models and Black-themed campaigns, he literally changed the way American companies market their products to Black consumers. [He also] ushered into being the first generation of African-American professionals in publishing and advertising. I'm not exaggerating when I say there would be no Earl Graves without John Johnson."
Other major speakers, including UNCF President William Gray III and the Rev. Jesse Jackson St., president of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, echoed Graves and urged the students to take the Johnson message of innovation and excellence into the new century.
Among the local and national leaders attending the event were former Secretary of Transportation William T. Coleman; Thomas Burrell, chairman, Burrell Communications Group; Johnson Publishing Company President and CEO Linda Johnson Rice; Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) Secretary-Treasurer Eunice W. Johnson, and JPC executives from the Chicago, New York and Washington offices.
The honoree was presented to the students, faculty and guests by Howard President H. Patrick Swygert, who said that "John Johnson is a testimony to what is possible provided that one has the courage to dream and the opportunities to make them into reality."
Earlier this year, the publisher donated $4 million to the school. Both President Swygert and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who delivered the benediction, noted that a determined and education-loving mother, Gertrude Johnson Williams, helped make the Johnson miracle possible. Rev. Jackson noted that when he arrived in Chicago, friendless and unknown, the publisher and his mother were the first persons to give him a job.
Responding to a standing ovation led by the students, Johnson said he was honored to be associated with the Howard tradition. He urged the students to dedicate themselves to excellence and perseverance, recalling the difficult day in his early years when he called his mother and told her that he had tried everything and that it looked like his business was going to fail.
"Are you still trying?" she asked.
"Yes," he told her, "I'm still trying."
"Well," she replied, "as long as you're still trying, you're not failing."
With a wave and salute to the incoming class, the publisher, who started his publishing and cosmetics empire by borrowing $500 on his mother's furniture, told the students to continue the long Howard march and to remember that "as long as you're trying, you're not failing."
The convocation was followed by a ceremony at the John H. Johnson School of Communications, which is the biggest producer of baccalaureate degrees awarded to African-Americans in communications. Dean Jannette L. Dates praised Johnson for his contributions to American media and said the school will try to instill in students "Mr. Johnson's entrepreneurial spirit, his rooted-ness in the Black community, his passion for excellence, his business acumen, his love of family, and his love of community ... "
At the luncheon "naming ceremony" in the Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, attended by National Urban League President Marc Morial, Debra Lee, president of BET, and other notables, a taped video presented messages from Coretta Scott King, UNCF President William Gray III, EBONY Executive Editor Lerone Bennett Jr., Tom Joyner, Tavis Smiley, and Johnson Publishing Company President and CEO Linda Johnson Rice. President Rice later responded for the company, praising her father for his example and his legacy.
Frank Savage, chairman of the Howard Board of Trustees and CEO of Savage Holdings, LLC, summed up the proceedings, saying that the trail the publisher blazed "made way for Black Enterprise, Essence and Emerge."
"We are indebted to John Johnson," he added, "for he broke the barriers, he beat the odds ... He did not succeed just for self and family. He succeeded for us all."