America’s First Black Woman Billionaire Sheila Johnson Backs Musical Celebrating Black Female Entrepreneurship
Photo Credit: Eugene Gologursky
Sheila Johnson became the first Black woman billionaire in America when she co-founded BET with her husband, Robert Johnson. At the time, she made headlines by providing the first Black platform for arts and entertainment, and doing so at a time when the Black narrative was either whitewashed to be more palatable to “Middle America” or eliminated from the status quo altogether.
Today, Sheila Johnson — who is now 72-years-old and the owner of Salamander Hotels & Resorts — is entering what some might call the “golden years” of her career.
And according to CNN, part of those “golden years” involve investing in a new musical called “Grace.”
The musical, which was by acclaimed composer and playwright Nolan Williams Jr. and executive producer Dale A. Mott, pays homage to Black culinary history as well as Black women entrepreneurship. Naturally, with these themes resonating so strongly in Johnson’s life, investing in the musical was a foregone conclusion.
“If you listen to the music, it makes you cry,” she said to CNN. “This is like pulling it all together so people can see the importance of promoting our African-American chefs, just really listening to all of this talent. I’m just so proud to be a supporter.”
Though Sheila Johnson declined to disclose exactly how much she invested in the new musical, she did make it clear that she was one of many investors — celebrity chef Carla Hall is yet another investor in “Grace.” The cast will perform some songs at one of Johnson’s resorts in Virginia, but the play is set to debut at a Washington area theater in the spring of 2022, and Johnson said she hopes the play will eventually reach Broadway.
“We have got to send a message about diversifying Broadway,” she said. “We’ve got to support Black theater. There’s just a lack of representation there.”