It’s been 41 years since the owner and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts co-founded the BET network with her then-husband Robert Johnson, creating a national platform for African music videos, TV shows and films. Americans at a time when they were often excluded from the airwaves.
Johnson, who declined to say how much she invested, says “Grace” pays homage to black culinary history as well as black women’s entrepreneurship – two central themes in her own life – while telling the story. of an African-American family in Philadelphia debating what to do with their century-old restaurant following the death of the family matriarch.
“If you listen to music, it makes you cry,” Johnson said of “Grace” in a recent CNN Business interview. “It’s like putting it all together so people can see the importance of promoting our African American leaders, really listening to all of these talents. I’m so proud to be a supporter.”
The full-length musical is set to debut at a Washington-area theater in the spring of 2022, and Johnson has said she hopes the play will eventually reach Broadway.
“We need to send a message about diversifying Broadway,” she said. “We have to support the black theater. There is just a lack of representation there.”
Not defined by its results
“People cannot be defined by their bottom line, their bank balance,” she said. “I think that’s wrong and I really want to walk away from it. There are a lot of billionaires, multi-billionaires, trillionaires, but that’s what they do with their lives and how they give back to the community. [that matters]. “
Turn lemons into lemonade
It was this worldview that helped Johnson navigate his luxury hotel and sports teams through the worst of the pandemic, when Covid-19 and related government closures and mandates decimated the revenue streams of both industries. .
Initially, Johnson’s management team laid off some hotel staff, but tried to make the most of a bad situation after returning to her Salamander location in Middleburg only to find that the main entrance had been padlocked by management when it was temporarily closed at the beginning of last spring.
“I could have been very upset about it, but I walked into a side door and called my general manager,” Johnson recalls. “I said, ‘I want you to bring 11 people back to work.’ We found the silver lining in that dark moment and it was called “deferred maintenance”. “
“This meant that they were able to get many employees back to work safely and quickly, and many months later they are still hiring staff as demand continues to improve,” a spokesperson for the company by e-mail.
In October, she hosted outdoor screenings for the Middleburg Film Festival which she had previously founded on her precinct. The resort will also host performances from the American Ballet Theater later this year, after the New York-based classical ballet company announced the cancellation of its spring and summer performance schedule.
“We have 21 wonderful dancers that we bring in,” Johnson said. “We had to find alternatives to make it work.”
Advocacy for more black hotel managers
“It was uncomfortable for me personally,” Johnson said of being one of the few CEOs of black hotel chains.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the number of staff Salamander Resorts employs.