Best Known For
Robert L. Johnson is an American entrepreneur best known as the founder of the BET channel and as the country’s first African-American billionaire.
Think you know about Biography?
Answer questions and see how you rank against other players.Play Now
Robert L. Johnson was born on April 8, 1946, in Hickory, Mississippi. Johnson founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979 with his wife, Sheila. He became the first African-American billionaire after selling the network to Viacom in 2001. Johnson has since started a new business, the RLJ Companies, and has invested in an NBA team, a film company, and political causes and campaigns.
Robert L. Johnson was born in Hickory, Mississippi, on April 8, 1946. He spent the majority of his childhood in Freeport, Illinois. Johnson graduated from Freeport High School in 1964, and studied history at the University of Illinois. He then earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Princeton University.
In 1979, Johnson and his wife Sheila founded Black Entertainment Television, the first cable network targeting the African-American market. It was launched in January 1980, initially broadcasting for two hours a week. In 1991, BET became the first African-American-owned company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. BET has continued to grow since that time, reaching tens of millions of homes. The network has expanded to include other traditional and digital channels.
In 2000, Viacom announced plans to purchase BET. Johnson’s majority stake earned him over a billion dollars, making him the richest African American in the United States at that time and the first African-American billionaire. Johnson continued to be the company’s chairman and CEO for several years before leaving BET to lead the RLJ Companies.
Johnson developed the RLJ Companies following the sale of BET to Viacom. RLJ is a holding company and asset management firm handling a portfolio of companies in the financial services, real estate, hospitality, professional sports, film production, automotive and gaming industries. Johnson has referred to RLJ as his “second act.”
Johnson has invested in several notable companies and organizations beyond the reach of RLJ. He was the first African-American principal owner of a North American major-league sports franchise, the Charlotte Bobcats. In 2006, Johnson founded Our Stories Films with partner Harvey Weinstein. The company focuses on family-friendly movies intended for African-American audiences. In 2011, Our Stories released the romantic-comedy feature Jumping the Broom.
In addition to his business ventures, Johnson has involved himself in politics. In 2007, Johnson organized a tour of African-American business leaders to Liberia. This trip led to the creation of the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund. Johnson publicly called for African-American support of Liberia, on the model of Jewish support for Israel. Johnson received criticism for his rebuke of Barack Obama during the 2008 Democratic primary election, in favor of Hillary Clinton.
Johnson was married to Sheila Johnson from 1969 to 2002. The couple, who cofounded BET, divorced a year after selling the network to Viacom. They have two children. Sheila Johnson received one of the largest documented settlements in United States history and subsequently married the judge who presided over the divorce proceedings.
© 2013 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.
profile name: Robert L. Johnson profile occupation:
Sign in with Facebook to see how you and your friends are connected to famous icons.
Your Friends' Connections
Included In These Groups
With innovative ideas and charismatic personalities, many African-Americans have made lasting contributions to the country, while also earning millions. Oprah Winfrey emerged as a world-famous one-woman brand with her show, eventually becoming the world's first black billionaire. Robert L. Johnson started BET, the cable channel geared towards African-Americans. Athlete Michael Jordan turned into a household name through numerous endorsement deals. These people were among the first African-Americans to overcome the obstacles of discrimination and achieve top honors in their fields. With talent and determination, each one reinvented not only what it meant to be an African-American, but also what it meant to be an American.
Million-Dollar Ideas 9 people in this group
From stereotypical roles as maids and cooks to Academy Award-winning performances in blockbuster movies, African-Americans have come a long way in the world of film and TV. Early stars like Sidney Portier and Hattie McDaniel may have been the first actors to win awards for their stellar performances, but modern-day actors such as Denzel Washington and Halle Berry are still breaking new ground as the first African-Americans to win Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes in certain categories. Learn about the African-American actors who became the first to change the fabric film and TV with their dramatic performances.
African-American Firsts: Film & TV 18 people in this group
presented by African-American Firsts: Film & TV
Famous Arians 533 people in this group