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Sheila C. Johnson

Business and civic leader, Sheila Crump Johnson was born on January 25, 1949, in Pennsylvania. Her father, George P. Crump, was a prominent neurosurgeon, and her mother, Marie Iris Crump, was an accountant. During her early years, her father’s practice at Veterans Administration hospitals took the family from town to town. Johnson’s family then relocated to Maywood, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, where she attended Irving High School, and then graduated from Proviso High School in 1966. During this time, Johnson found her first love, music; she went on to become a concert violinist and the first African American to win a statewide violin competition in Illinois. After high school, Johnson enrolled in the University of Illinois where she met her now-former husband and business partner, Robert Johnson (divorced 2002).

In 1969, Johnson married Robert Johnson, and in 1970, graduated from the University of Illinois with her B.A. degree in music. After graduation, Johnson worked as a music teacher at the private school, Sidwell Friends. In 1975, she founded a 140-member youth orchestra, Young Strings in Action. The group was invited to perform in the Middle Eastern nation of Jordan, where she was given the country’s top educational award by Jordan’s King Hussein.

In 1980, Johnson and her husband co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET), a cable network geared towards African American audiences. Johnson became BET’s executive vice president for corporate affairs, focusing on issues affecting the communities that BET served. In 1989, Johnson created Teen Summit, a show that dealt with the everyday issues of teens and attempted to motivate the teen viewers.

In 1999, Johnson left BET to pursue her own interests and to guide her daughter’s equestrian career. In 2002, Johnson became head of the Washington International Horse Show. Johnson purchased a farm in Northern Virginia in Middleburg and turned the 350 acre estate into the Salamander Inn & Spa, an 85,000-square-foot French country resort. Johnson also formed Salamander Hospitality, a hotel resort and spa management firm, in order to achieve those goals.

Johnson became involved in the Washington Mystics WNBA franchise, and in 2005 purchased it from former owner, Abe Pollin; this and similar moves in relation to the Washington Capitals (NHL) and the Washington Wizards (NBA), earned her the distinction of being the first woman to be a stakeholder in three professional sports franchises. In 2005, Johnson married William T. Newman, Jr., a judge in Arlington, Virginia. In July of 2007, Johnson purchased Innisbrook Golf Resort and its four golf courses outside of Tampa, Florida. Johnson expanded her portfolio to include film in 2008, when she was the executive producer of A Powerful Noise. Johnson is the mother of two children, Paige Johnson and Brett Johnson.

Accession Number

A2007.222

Sex

Female

Interview Date

8/1/2007

Last Name

Johnson

Maker Category
Middle Name

C.

Schools

Proviso East High School

Irving Elem School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sheila

HM ID

JOH31

Favorite Season

Fall

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Italy

Favorite Quote

Always Do Your Best.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

1/25/1949

Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Chicken

Short Description

Hospitality entrepreneur and broadcast executive Sheila C. Johnson (1949 - ) was the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET). As the owner of the Washington Mystics, Johnson was the first African American woman to own a professional basketball team; her involvement with the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals earned her the distinction of being the first woman to be a stakeholder in three professional sports franchises. Johnsonalso owned Salamander Resort & Spa and Salamander Hospitality.

Employment

Princeton Day School

Sidwell Friends School

BET

Salamander Resort and Spa

Washington International Horse Show

Washington Mystic

National Music Conservatory

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sheila C. Johnson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sheila C. Johnson lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sheila Johnson describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls moving often during her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sheila C. Johnson describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sheila C. Johnson talks about her younger brother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls her piano lessons in Chicago, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her early personality

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Sheila C. Johnson describes the community of Maywood, Illinois

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls playing first chair violin in the Illinois All-State Orchestra

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls the deaths of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sheila C. Johnson describes Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls her violin performances

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers being a cheerleader

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls her decision to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sheila C. Johnson describes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her extracurricular activities

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her experiences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls marrying BET founder Robert L. Johnson

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls the early years of her marriage

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers her summer in Brussels, Belgium

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls teaching at the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls founding the Young Strings in Action orchestra

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls operating Young Strings in Action from her home

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls founding Black Entertainment Television

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls finding advertisers for BET

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers her decision to retire from teaching

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers performing in Jordan with Young Strings in Action

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers the success of Young Strings in Action

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls Young Strings in Action's performance in Jordan, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls Young Strings in Action's performance in Jordan, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers creating the National Music Conservatory in Amman, Jordan

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sheila C. Johnson talks about Young Strings in Action

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls working full time at BET

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sheila C. Johnson describes the 'Teen Summit' program on BET

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Shelia C. Johnson describes BET's production company

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sheila C. Johnson remembers the success of BET's 'Teen Summit'

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Sheila C. Johnson talks about the BET Awards

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her children's education

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her daughter's interest in equestrianism

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls learning about the horse show industry

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sheila C. Johnson describes Salamander Farm

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her children's interests

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls her presidency of the Washington International Horse Show

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her business ventures in Middleburg, Virginia

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sheila C. Johnson talks about her work in the hospitality industry

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sheila C. Johnson recalls becoming an owner of the Washington Mystics

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her goals for the Washington Mystics WNBA team

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Sheila C. Johnson talks about Sheila's I Am Powerful Challenge

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Sheila C. Johnson describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Sheila C. Johnson reflects upon her legacy and how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

7$7

DATitle
Sheila C. Johnson recalls finding advertisers for BET
Sheila C. Johnson recalls becoming an owner of the Washington Mystics
Transcript
Can you describe those early years of BET [Black Entertainment Television]?$$Oh, yes. They were tough because to get a network on the air, you gotta get advertising to keep it on there. And nobody believed in us, even the African American community. Ebony magazine, we would go to them to help. We wanted to, you know, help with the advertising. Nobody. We couldn't even get the hair care companies behind us, so it was tough. It--I, I cannot begin to tell you how tough it was. And even when we were taking cameras around to, you know, try to film things. I remember at one point I think Bob [Johnson's ex-husband, Robert L. Johnson] and a group of camera people were down in New Orleans [Louisiana] and they swore that--because he was always hiring a lot of women. They thought he was running a prostitution ring, you know. So then that got cleaned up and then--it, it was the usual stuff. And it, it was just tough, just getting people to believe in our vision and in our--and in what we were doing.$$Well, let's, you know, set some of the whole thing. First of all, the industry back in 1979, 1980 is still very new. And you haven't entered--really there's been the urban markets haven't really come on.$$Right.$$Right, so for BET really to get, to get started it needed the urban areas.$$Yeah, and that's where we were trying to get into, you know. The programing as such was not what our African American community wanted to see. You know, we, we had Petey Greene all the way up to his death. And I don't know if you remember the Petey Greene show ['Petey Greene's Washington'] when he'd be sitting up there eating chitlins and watermelons, and this is how you eat a pork chop. We got more phone calls, they called it garbage programming, and I have to say, that is not the programming I wanted. I figured if were gonna start an African American network, we wanted something that we were gonna be proud of. I didn't want it to be Ebony magazine, I wanted it to be more critical in the sense of let's bring the real stories in there. Let's talk about, let's dialog, let's communicate on issues within the African American community. The problem was, is the African American community were not supporting those programs. So that's when the video market starting coming in. We were able--BET could not turn a corner until videos came on.$$In what year do you remember that being (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) I do not remember that; I would say it's within the fifth year.$$Okay.$$'Cause I remember that's when the books started to balance. And suddenly we got this younger audience to watch BET, and then that's where the advertisers we had to start marketing too. It's that eighteen and thirty-five-year old range. And to this day, that is a critical part of the audience of BET.$$So that was a critical decision made in that, in that within that first five years that you were gonna change the focus to, to focus on the, the-$$We had to make money. We weren't making money. MTV [Music Television; MTV] would not--they started the video market, but they would not put on any African American videos, so then when Michael Jackson was our first guy that came and he says, "Play my videos." And, and then the audience transferred from MTV to BET because we were, you know, a lot of white folks like Michael Jackson too. So we were starting to get more of an audience base and that way we were able to the advertiser were then like okay, well, we'll support it or we'll, you know, buy time on the network.$$So this was good in that you didn't have to pay for the videos, so you got--you didn't have (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, all the videos are free. They're just looking for an outlet, and so that became a basic part of the programming and it still is to this day. And we did try to put newsworthy programming on. You know, if you look at all the African Americans out there, BET really gave African Americans that were going in the media their launch in life. [HistoryMaker] Tavis Smiley was on there, Ed Gordon [HistoryMaker Ed Gordon, III]. I mean I can name lots of people who got their start in television through BET.$How did the Mystics [Washington Mystics] come into being? You know, because I hear you're really big on the hospitality industry in many ways and horsing (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yes, I am. Yeah, and this is one of those sidebar surprises. I was asked by Abe Pollin to show up in his office one day and I thought he was gonna want me to help him do some charity work. And he says, "I wanna offer you the Washington Mystics." And I said, "Offer to you?" And he says, "No, I want you to buy the Washington Mystics." And I said, "Why me?" And he says, "Why not you?" And he talked to me about it, he says, "I'm getting old," he says, "I can't do all this anymore." He says, "I'm gonna keep the Wizards [Washington Wizards]," he says, "but I just can't do all of this." So I said, "Well, let me think about it." And he says, "Well, you think about it." And the more--it couldn't have been fifteen minutes before I left his office and I realized the magnitude of what he was offering me. I was being let into an old boys' network, where women first of all, don't ever get into. Secondly, an African American woman, forget it. So I got in the car and I called my attorney, he says, "You don't wanna buy a team they lose money and everything." And I'm like, "But Sandy [ph.], if you were offered a team, would you buy?" He says, "Well, I don't know maybe, maybe not." I said, "Do you realize what this means? I'm a woman, I'm an African American woman. I'm getting let into something that nobody would ever get into." He says, "Well, let's talk." And so I went straight over to his office and I talked to him about it. And then I realized there is this company called Lincoln Holdings [Monumental Sports and Entertainment, Washington, D.C.], and that's the holding company for the Washington Capitals and 45 percent of the Wizards. And I said, "Do you think that they would let me into that holding company?" He says, "Well, let's give it a shot." He calls Ted Leonsis and Ted talks about it. And I said, "Look, I'll not only buy the Mystics but I wanna buy into the company just like the rest of them." And Ted thinks about it, and I get let into this company. Well, there's ten other men and we're talking like a Richard Fairbanks [Richard D. Fairbank], we're talking Ted Leonsis, we're talking Dick Patrick, we're talking about some very financially well-off, powerful men. And they let me in. So that not only gives me access to the Mystics, I'm also with the Capitals and 45 percent owner of the Wizards. So that puts me in a unique category and the first woman to be ownership into three sports teams. Now the way this works is when Abe Pollin passes, we get first right of refusal to everything which means we will take over the Wizards, we already have control of two of the other two teams. We take the building, we take the Patriots Center [Patriot Center; EagleBank Arena, Fairfax, Virginia], Ticketmaster. That, that puts this group of Lincoln Holdings as one of the wealthiest sports franchises in the country and I'll be part of it.$$That's pretty amazing and so how had you come to meet Mr. Pollin?$$Pollin? I've known Abe Pollin for years. Yeah, in fact, he's a neighbor.