Black History Month - Business

This year to celebrate Black History Month, M. H. West & Co., Inc. will be highlighting notable African-Americans in selected fields each week. This week the field is business. Please look at our other installments in this series: science, athletics and entertainment.

Past Black History Month Fields

African-American Business Leaders

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

01.290.1954 –

Billionaire Oprah Winfrey is best known for hosting her own internationally popular talk show from 1986 to 2011. She is also an actress, philanthropist, publisher and producer.


Media giant Oprah Winfrey was born in the rural town of Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954. In 1976, Winfrey moved to Baltimore, where she hosted a hit television chat show, People Are Talking. Afterward, she was recruited by a Chicago TV station to host her own morning show. She later became the host of her own, wildly popular program, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2011. That same year, Winfrey launched her own TV network, the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Oprah's Beginnings

American television host, actress, producer, philanthropist and entrepreneur Oprah Gail Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi. After a troubled adolescence in a small farming community, where she was sexually abused by a number of male relatives and friends of her mother, Vernita, she moved to Nashville to live with her father, Vernon, a barber and businessman. She entered Tennessee State University in 1971 and began working in radio and television broadcasting in Nashville.

In 1976, Oprah Winfrey moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she hosted the TV chat show People Are Talking. The show became a hit and Winfrey stayed with it for eight years, after which she was recruited by a Chicago TV station to host her own morning show, A.M. Chicago. Her major competitor in the time slot was Phil Donahue. Within several months, Winfrey's open, warm-hearted personal style had won her 100,000 more viewers than Donahue and had taken her show from last place to first in the ratings. Her success led to nationwide fame and a role in Steven Spielberg's 1985 film The Color Purple, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Winfrey launched the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986 as a nationally syndicated program. With its placement on 120 channels and an audience of 10 million people, the show grossed $125 million by the end of its first year, of which Winfrey received $30 million. She soon gained ownership of the program from ABC, drawing it under the control of her new production company, Harpo Productions ('Oprah' spelled backwards) and making more and more money from syndication.

Success and Fame

In 1994, with talk shows becoming increasingly trashy and exploitative, Winfrey pledged to keep her show free of tabloid topics. Although ratings initially fell, she earned the respect of her viewers and was soon rewarded with an upsurge in popularity. Her projects with Harpo have included the highly rated 1989 TV miniseries, The Women of Brewster Place, which she also starred in. Winfrey also signed a multi-picture contract with Disney. The initial project, 1998's Beloved, based on Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Toni Morrison and starring Winfrey and Danny Glover, got mixed reviews and generally failed to live up to expectations.

Winfrey, who became almost as well-known for her weight loss efforts as for her talk show, lost an estimated 90 pounds (dropping to her ideal weight of around 150 pounds) and competed in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., in 1995. In the wake of her highly publicized success, Winfrey's personal chef, Rosie Daley, and trainer, Bob Greene, both published best-selling books.

The media giant contributed immensely to the publishing world by launching her "Oprah's Book Club," as part of her talk show. The program propelled many unknown authors to the top of the bestseller lists and gave pleasure reading a new kind of popular prominence.

With the debut in 1999 of Oxygen Media, a company she co-founded that is dedicated to producing cable and Internet programming for women, Winfrey ensured her place in the forefront of the media industry and as one of the most powerful and wealthy people in show business. In 2002, she concluded a deal with the network to air a prime-time complement to her syndicated talk show. Her highly successful monthly, O: The Oprah Magazine debuted in 2000, and in 2004, she signed a new contract to continue The Oprah Winfrey Show through the 2010-11 season. Now syndicated, the show is seen on nearly 212 U.S. stations and in more than 100 countries worldwide.

In 2005, Winfrey helped give The Color Purple a new life onstage as one of the producers of the eleven-time Tony-nominated musical, which ran on Broadway until 2008. A revival of the musical, which Winfrey co-produced in 2015, won the Tony Award for best revival of a musical.

The Oprah Winfrey Network

In 2009, Oprah Winfrey announced that she would be ending her program when her contract with ABC ended, in 2011. Soon after, she moved to her own network, the Oprah Winfrey Network, a joint venture with Discovery Communications.

Despite a financially rocky start, the network made headlines in January 2013, when it aired an interview between Winfrey and Lance Armstrong, the American cyclist and seven-time Tour de France winner who was stripped of his seven Tour titles in 2012 due to doping charges. During the interview, Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing substances throughout his cycling career, including the hormones cortisone, testosterone and erythropoietin (also known as EPO). "I am deeply flawed ... and I'm paying the price for it, and I think that's okay. I deserve this," he stated. The interview reportedly brought in millions of dollars in revenue for OWN.

Of her interview with Armstrong, Winfrey said in a statement, "He did not come clean in the manner I expected. It was surprising to me. I would say that, for myself, my team, all of us in the room, we were mesmerized by some of his answers. I felt he was thorough. He was serious. He certainly prepared himself for this moment. I would say he met the moment. At the end of it, we both were pretty exhausted."

In March 2015, Winfrey announced that her Chicago-based Harpo Studios would close at the end of the year to consolidate the company’s production operations to the Los Angeles-based OWN headquarters. Winfrey’s television empire was launched at the studio and it had been home to her daily syndicated talk show through its finale in 2011. "The time had come to downsize this part of the business and to move forward. It will be sad to say goodbye," said Winfrey, "but I look ahead with such a knowing that what the future holds is even more than I can see."

Winfrey returned to acting in Greenleaf, which marked her first recurring scripted television role. The original family drama revolves around a Memphis megachurch and premiered on OWN in June 2016.

Activism and Charity

According to Forbes magazine, Oprah was the richest African American of the 20th century and the world's only Black billionaire for three years running. Life magazine hailed her as the most influential woman of her generation. In 2005, Business Week named her the greatest Black philanthropist in American history. Oprah's Angel Network has raised more than $51,000,000 for charitable programs, including girls' education in South Africa and relief to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Winfrey is a dedicated activist for children's rights; in 1994, President Clinton signed a bill into law that Winfrey had proposed to Congress, creating a nationwide database of convicted child abusers. She founded the Family for Better Lives foundation and also contributes to her alma mater, Tennessee State University. In September 2002, Oprah was named the first recipient of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' Bob Hope Humanitarian Award.

Winfrey campaigned for Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama in December 2007, attracting the largest crowds of the primary season to that point. Winfrey joined Obama for a series of rallies in the early primary/caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. It was the first time Winfrey had ever campaigned for a political candidate.

The biggest event was at the University of South Carolina football stadium, where 29,000 supporters attended a rally that had been switched from an 18,000-seat basketball arena to satisfy public demand.

"Dr. (Martin Luther) King dreamed the dream. But we don't have to just dream the dream any more," Oprah told the crowd. "We get to vote that dream into reality by supporting a man who knows not just who we are, but who we can be." The power of Winfrey's political endorsement was unclear (Obama won Iowa and South Carolina, but lost New Hampshire). But she has a clear track record of turning unknown authors into blockbuster best-sellers when she mentions their books on her program.

After The Oprah Winfrey Show ended on September 9, 2011, Oprah has remained in the rapidly shifting and converging media field through The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), which launched on January 1, 2011.

In her final season of her talk show, Oprah made ratings soar when she revealed a family secret: she has a half-sister named Patricia. Oprah's mother gave birth to a baby girl in 1963. At the time, Oprah was 9 years old, and living with her father. Lee put the child up for adoption because she believed that she wouldn't be able to get off public assistance if she had another child to care for. Patricia lived in a series of foster homes until she was 7 years old.

Patricia tried to connect with her birth mother through her adoption agency after she became an adult, but Lee did not want to meet her. After doing some research, she approached a niece of Winfrey's, and the two had DNA tests done, which proved they were related.

Winfrey only learned of her sister's existence a few months before she made the decision to publicize the knowledge. "It was one of the greatest surprises of my life," Winfrey said on her show.

In November 2013, Winfrey received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. President Barack Obama gave her this award for her contributions to her country.

In January 2017, CBS announced that Winfrey will join the newsmagazine 60 Minutes as a special contributor in the fall.

Personal Life

Winfrey has been in a relationship with Stedman Graham, a public relations executive, since the mid-1980s. They became engaged in 1992, but never tied the knot. The couple lives in Chicago, and Winfrey also has homes in Montecito, California, Rolling Prairie, Indiana, and Telluride, Colorado.

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Russell Simmons
Russell Simmons

10.04.1957 –

Co-founder of Def Jam Records, Russell Simmons was the force behind the hip-hop revolution, promoting stars like the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and LL Cool J.


Born in New York City on October 4, 1957, Russell Simmons began promoting New York City musicians in his early 20s. He partnered with Rick Rubin to create Def Jam Records, and signed artists like the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Run-D.M.C. He later sold his stake in Def Jam to Universal Music Group for $100 million. In addition to his music career, Simmons is an enormously successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Coming Up

Russell Wendell Simmons was born in Queens, New York, on October 4, 1957. The second of three brothers, he was raised in the middle-class neighborhood of Hollis. He began his entrepreneurial career in his youth, but on the wrong side of the law, selling marijuana to make money while an active member of a local gang. Despite having been arrested twice for his misdeeds, in 1975 Simmons graduated from high school and briefly attended the City College of New York.

However, lured away from academics by his love of music, Simmons left school and founded Rush Management to promote local rap acts, including Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C., one of whose members was his younger brother, Joseph "Run" Simmons. As rap music continued to gain popularity, in 1984 Simmons teamed up with Rick Rubin to found the label Def Jam Recordings, paving the way for the hip-hop revolution.

Def Jam

With meager funding to launch their endeavor, Simmons and Rubin quickly set about filling Def Jam's stable with an impressive collection of artists, including Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. When those hip-hop pioneers achieved superstardom, the label further expanded its roster, signing acts as diverse as Public Enemy, Oran "Juice" Jones and the thrash metal band Slayer.

Going a step further to bring hip-hop to the mainstream, in 1985 Simmons produced the hit film Krush Groove as a means of promoting Def Jam and its artists to the masses. During this period, he would also produce the Run-D.M.C. film Tougher Than Leather (1988), as well as the Def Comedy Jam cable series, which ran on HBO from 1992 to 2008.

Phat Farm and Fortune

An ambitious entrepreneur, Russell Simmons saw Def Jam as just part of his hip-hop empire. In 1992 he launched the clothing line Phat Farm, which became a massive success and was later expanded to include the women's line Baby Phat, the more conservative Def Jam University and the sports apparel line Run Athletics.

Wielding his Midas touch in other arenas, Simmons also established the management company SLBG Entertainment, several publishing ventures, a beverage company and the advertising agency Rush Media. Continuing his work in television and film he has produced the Eddie Murphy film The Nutty Professor, the MTV reality series Run's House and HBO's Tony Award-winning Def Poetry Jam, among many others.

In 1999, Simmons cashed in big on Def Jam Recordings when he sold a majority share to the Universal Music Group for $100 million. Five years later, he sold Phat Farm for $140 million.

Personal Life

A strict vegan and yoga enthusiast, Simmons is also an active philanthropist. He helped found the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, the Rush Philanthropic Organization and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. He actively supports PETA and has been involved with various charities aimed at fighting war, poverty and HIV/AIDS. Simmons has also been an outspoken supporter of gay rights and is the author of the motivational book Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success (2007).

Simmons was married to model Kimora Lee from 1998 to 2008. They have two daughters, Ming and Aoki.

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Robert L. Johnson
Robert L. Johnson

04.08.1946 –

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.


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.


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. The network has continued to grow since that time, reaching tens of millions of homes and expanding to include other traditional and digital channels.

In 2000, Viacom announced plans to purchase BET. The sale was finalized the following year and Johnson’s majority stake earned him more than $1 billion, making him the richest African American in the United States at that time as well as 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.

Personal Life

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.

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Ursula Burns
Ursula Burns

09.20.1958 –

Ursula M. Burns serves as Chairman of Xerox and was the CEO of the company from July 2009 to December 2016. As such, she was the first black-American woman CEO to head a Fortune 500 company. In 2014, Forbes rated her the 22nd most powerful woman in the world.

Early Life

Burns was raised by a single mother in the Baruch Houses, a New York city housing project. Both of her parents were Panamanian immigrants. She attended Cathedral High School (New York City), a Catholic all-girls school on East 56th Street in New York. She went on to obtain a bachelor of science degree in Mechanical Engineering from New York University in 1980 and a master of science in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University a year later.

Career at Xerox

In 1980, Burns first worked for Xerox as a summer intern, permanently joining a year later, in 1981, after completing her master's degree. She worked in various roles in product development and planning in the remainder of the 1980s throughout her 20s.

In January 1990, her career took an unexpected turn when Wayland Hicks, then a senior executive, offered Burns a job as his executive assistant. She accepted and worked for him for roughly nine months when she was ready to go back home because she was about to be married to Lloyd Bean. In June 1991, she became executive assistant to then chairman and chief executive Paul Allaire. In 1999, she was named vice president for global manufacturing.

In May 2000, Burns was named senior vice president of corporate strategic services and began working closely with soon to be CEO Anne Mulcahy, in what both women have described as a true partnership. Two years later, Burns became president of business group operations. Then in 2007, Burns assumed the role of president of Xerox. In July 2009, she was named CEO, succeeding Mulcahy, who remained as chairman until May 2010.

In addition to the Xerox board, she is a board director of the American Express Corporation, Exxon Mobil Corporation and Datto Inc. Burns also provides leadership counsel to community, educational and non-profit organizations including FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), National Academy Foundation, MIT, and the U.S. Olympic Committee, among others. She is a founding board director of Change the Equation, which focuses on improving the U.S.'s education system in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). U.S. President Barack Obama appointed Burns to help lead the White House National program on STEM and in 2009 and in March 2010 appointed Burns as vice chair of the President's Export Council.

Community Activities

Burns has served on numerous professional and community boards, including Exxon Mobil Corporation, American Express, Boston Scientific, FIRST, National Association of Manufacturers, University of Rochester, the MIT Corporation, the Rochester Business Alliance, and the RUMP Group. She had been serving as Vice Chairwoman of the Executive Committee of The Business Council between 2013 and 2014. In addition, she is also among the founding Board Directors of Change the Equation, which is an organization that focuses on improving STEM-based education in the United States.

She was the Commencement speaker at MIT's 2011 Commencement, which was also the conclusion of MIT's 150th anniversary celebration. She delivered the 2011 Commencement address at the University of Rochester. She was the 2012 Commencement speaker for Xavier University of Louisiana's May 12 Commencement ceremony, where she also received an honorary degree, one of the institution's highest honors.


Burns made headlines in 2009 when she became the first black-American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Burns has been exceptionally visible during her tenure, making frequent public appearances.

Burns pushed for the $6.4 billion acquisition of Affiliated Computer Services that closed in 2010, though Xerox Corp. has yet to see any substantial benefit from the deal. Late in 2013, the company called the police prior to announcing 168 layoffs at its Cary, N.C., facility, noting they "were expecting trouble." It was the second round of a total of roughly 500 layoffs.

Burns has been awarded an average of $13 million a year between 2010 and 2012. One former employee, commenting on Glassdoor, said, "Most upper management have received salary increase over the last 6 years, but staff has not."

She has been listed multiple times by Forbes as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. In 2015, she was listed as the 29th.

Personal Life

Burns married Lloyd Bean, who also worked at Xerox, and she resides in Manhattan, New York. She has a daughter Melissa and a stepson Malcolm who attended MIT.

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Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker

12.23.1867 – 05.25.1919

Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, created specialized hair products for African-American hair and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.


Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, near Delta, Louisiana. After suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss, she invented a line of African-American hair care products in 1905. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians. Her savvy business acumen led her to be one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors including donating the largest amount of money by an African-American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.

Early Years

Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana. Her parents, Owen and Minerva, were recently freed slaves, and Sarah, who was their fifth child, was the first in her family to be free-born. Minerva Breedlove died in 1874 and Owen passed away the following year, both due to unknown causes, and Sarah became an orphan at the age of 7. After her parents' passing, Sarah was sent to live with her sister, Louvinia, and her brother-in-law. The three moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1877, where Sarah picked cotton and was likely employed doing household work, although no documentation exists verifying her employment at the time.

At age 14, to escape both her oppressive working environment and the frequent mistreatment she endured at the hands of her brother-in-law, Sarah married a man named Moses McWilliams. On June 6, 1885, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, A'Lelia. When Moses died two years later, Sarah and A'Lelia moved to St. Louis, where Sarah's brothers had established themselves as barbers. There, Sarah found work as a washerwoman, earning $1.50 a day—enough to send her daughter to the city's public schools. She also attended public night school whenever she could. While in St. Louis, Breedlove met her second husband Charles J. Walker, who worked in advertising and would later help promote her hair care business.

Early Entrepreneurship

During the 1890s, Sarah Breedlove developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, and she began to experiment with both home remedies and store-bought hair care treatments in an attempt to improve her condition. In 1905, Breedlove was hired as a commission agent by Annie Turnbo Malone—a successful, black, hair care product entrepreneur—and she moved to Denver, Colorado. While there, Breedlove's husband Charles helped her create advertisements for a hair care treatment for African Americans that she was perfecting. Her husband also encouraged her to use the more recognizable name "Madam C.J. Walker," by which she was thereafter known.

In 1907, Walker and her husband traveled around the South and Southeast promoting her products and giving lecture demonstrations of her "Walker Method"—involving her own formula for pomade, brushing and the use of heated combs.

Success and Philanthropy

As profits continued to grow, in 1908 Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh, and by 1910, when Walker transferred her business operations to Indianapolis, the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company had become wildly successful, with profits that were the modern-day equivalent of several million dollars. In Indianapolis, the company not only manufactured cosmetics, but trained sales beauticians. These "Walker Agents" became well known throughout the black communities of the United States. In turn, they promoted Walker's philosophy of "cleanliness and loveliness" as a means of advancing the status of African-Americans. An innovator, Walker organized clubs and conventions for her representatives, which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and educational efforts among African-Americans.

In 1913, Walker and Charles divorced, and she traveled throughout Latin America and the Caribbean promoting her business and recruiting others to teach her hair care methods. While her mother traveled, A'Lelia Walker helped facilitate the purchase of property in Harlem, New York, recognizing that the area would be an important base for future business operations. In 1916, upon returning from her travels, Walker moved to her new townhouse in Harlem. From there, she would continue to operate her business, while leaving the day-to-day operations of her factory in Indianapolis to its forelady.

Walker quickly immersed herself in Harlem's social and political culture. She founded philanthropies that included educational scholarships and donations to homes for the elderly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the National Conference on Lynching, among other organizations focused on improving the lives of African-Americans. She also donated the largest amount of money by an African-American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.

Death and Legacy

Madam C.J. Walker died of hypertension on May 25, 1919, at age 51, at the estate home she had built for herself in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. At the time of her death, Walker was sole owner of her business, which was valued at more than $1 million. Her personal fortune was estimated at between $600,000 and $700,000. Today, Walker is widely credited as one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire.

Walker left one-third of her estate to her daughter, A'Lelia Walker—who would also become well-known as an important part of the cultural Harlem Renaissance—and the remainder to various charities. Walker's funeral took place at her home, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington-on-Hudson, which was designated a National Historic Landmark, and she was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.

In 1927, the Walker Building, an arts center that Walker had begun work on before her death, was opened in Indianapolis. An important African-American cultural center for decades, it is now a registered National Historic Landmark. In 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp of Madam C.J. Walker as part of its "Black Heritage" series.

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Kenneth Chenault
Kenneth Chenault

06.02.1951 –

Kenneth Chenault is best known as CEO of American Express and one of the first African Americans to lead a Fortune 500 company.


Kenneth Chenault was born on June 2, 1951, in Mineola, New York. He worked as an attorney before transitioning into business, joining American Express in 1981. Chenault was named CEO of American Express in 2001, becoming one of the first African Americans to hold this position in a Fortune 500 company.

Early Life and Career

Kenneth Irvine Chenault was born on June 2, 1951, in Mineola, New York. His parents worked in a dental office as a dentist and a hygienist. Chenault attended the Waldorf School of Garden City, New York. He graduated from Bowdoin College with a degree in History in 1973. Three years later, he graduated from the Harvard Law School.

Chenault began working at the law firm of Rogers & Wells in New York City following his graduation from Harvard. He soon moved on from the firm. After a brief stint in legal practice, he joined Bain & Company as a consultant.

American Express

Chenault joined American Express in 1981. He took a position in the languishing merchandizing department, reviving it and leading his team to significant success. He launched lucrative corporate partnerships with companies including Delta Airlines.

In 1997, Chenault was named president and chief operating officer of American Express. He was named CEO in 2001—becoming one of the first African Americans to lead a Fortune 500 company. He is credited with guiding the company through the economic and personal devastation of the September 11 attacks in New York, just across the street from American Express headquarters.

In addition to his primary professional duties, Chenault has served on the boards of countless academic, professional and civic organizations. Among the causes to which he devotes his time are the National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He has delivered commencement addresses at Howard University, Wake Forest University and Northeastern University.

Personal Life

Chenault lives in New Rochelle, New York, with his wife, Kathryn, and sons Kevin and Kenneth Jr. He enjoys skiing and golf and is a member of a gender-segregated Augusta Golf Club, to which he has publicly advocated the admission of women.

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Richard Parsons
Richard Parsons

04.04.1948 –

Richard D. Parsons served as chairman of AOL Time Warner and Citigroup before taking over as CEO of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers in 2014.


Born on April 4, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York, Richard Parsons attended the University of Hawaii and Albany Law School. Following his early legal career, Parsons developed a reputation for managing crises as CEO of Dime Bank, CEO and chairman of AOL Time Warner, and chairman of Citigroup. He became CEO of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers after team owner Donald Sterling was suspended in May 2014.

Childhood and Schools

Richard Dean "Dick" Parsons was born on April 4, 1948, in Brooklyn, New York. The son of an electrical technician and a homemaker, he skipped a grade in elementary school and another in high school. Relegated to Princeton University’s wait list, he instead enrolled at the University of Hawaii at age 16.

Parsons majored in history and met his future wife, Laura Bush, at Hawaii. Although he was still six credits shy of his diploma after four years, he performed well enough on his pre-law exams to earn acceptance to Albany Law School in New York. Parsons worked part-time as a janitor before graduating first in his class in 1971.

Early Professional Success

Parsons began his professional career as counsel to New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, who retained the young lawyer after becoming U.S. vice president in 1974. Moving on to the Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler law firm in 1977, Parsons worked alongside future New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and rose to the rank of managing partner.

Corporate Problem Solver

Recruited to join Dime Savings Bank as chief operating officer in 1988, Parsons took over as CEO two years later when the savings and loan crisis threatened to derail the institution. Parsons kept Dime afloat as the real estate market recovered and spearheaded a successful merger with Anchor Savings Bank in 1994.

Named president of Time Warner in 1995, Parsons was thrust into the role of CEO and chairman following the ill-fated merger with AOL in 2001. He streamlined the business divisions and weathered investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, quelling enough fires to earn Institutional Investor's nod as the entertainment industry's top CEO in January 2005. However, the media giant struggled to make a sufficient recovery, and Parsons stepped down from his leadership positions in 2008.

His emergency-management capacities were called upon again when the 2008 financial crisis sent Citigroup into a tailspin. Installed as chairman in early 2009, Parsons maintained the channels of communication with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, and worked to soothe the nerves of frazzled investors. Having helped stabilize the company, Parsons left in 2012 to focus on a new jazz club venture, his Italian vineyard and various board memberships.

Clippers' CEO

Parsons was ushered into the midst of a new crisis after Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers, was suspended for life in May 2014 for derogatory comments about African Americans. The former bank and media chief accepted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s offer to take over as interim CEO of the team. But another public relations issue arose when questions surfaced about whether Parsons actually played for the University of Hawaii basketball team. Parsons subsequently clarified he played for one season on the freshman team.

"I am not a particularly ambitious person, believe it or not, and I am certainly not a driven person. I am a hard worker -- I was always told by my parents that luck was the residue of hard work."

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Rosalind Brewer
Rosalind Brewer

1968 -

Rosalind G. Brewer is an American businesswoman who is the former President and CEO of Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. She is the first woman and the first African-American to fill the role of CEO at one of Wal-Mart Stores' divisions.

Early Life and Education

Brewer, a Detroit native, attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit. She completed her undergraduate education at Spelman College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. She is a graduate of the Director’s College at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business/Stanford Law School, and she also attended an advanced management program at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.


Brewer had a 22-year career at Kimberly-Clark Corporation. Starting out as a scientist, she eventually advanced to president of the Global Nonwovens Sector in 2004.

Brewer’s career with Walmart began in 2006 with her position as regional vice president over operations in Georgia. From there, she became the division president of Walmart’s Southeast market, then president of Walmart East. In 2012, Brewer was named President and CEO of Sam’s Club, becoming the first African American to lead a Walmart division. She has focused on health and wellness by doubling the amount of organic products offered at Sam's Clubs.

Brewer serves on the board of directors for Lockheed Martin Corporation, and is chair of the board of trustees for Spelman. On February 1, 2017 Brewer was nominated for the Starbucks Board of Directors. Brewer formerly served as a director of Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Personal Life

Brewer is married with two children.


In 2013, Brewer was named one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes. The magazine also named her among the Most Powerful Black Women of 2013. Additionally, Working Mother named her one of the Most Powerful Working Moms of 2013. She has been honored by Fortune magazine as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business. As of 2014, she is listed as the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. Fortune 500's Most Powerful Women List of September 15, 2015 issue ranked Brewer 15th. In 2016 she ranked 19th on Fortune's annual ranking.

Brewer received the Spelman College Legacy of Leadership award.

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John Johnson
John Johnson

01.19.1918 – 08.08.2005

One of the country's pioneering African-American business leaders, publisher John H. Johnson created 'Ebony' and 'Jet' magazines.


Celebrated publisher and businessman John H. Johnson grew up in poverty in Arkansas and moved to Chicago as a teenager. It was there he established the Johnson Publishing Company, which began with Negro Digest in 1942. Johnson went on to create two more successful publications geared toward an African-American audience, launching Ebony in 1945 and Jet in 1951. His empire grew to include ventures in book publishing, cosmetics and radio. Johnson died in Chicago in 2005.

Early Life

Born in January 1918, African-American publisher and businessman John H. Johnson spent his early years in Arkansas City, Arkansas. His father, Leroy Johnson, died in a sawmill accident when John was a young boy. His mother, Gertrude, encouraged her son to excel and even moved the family to Chicago to advance his education. At the time, there was no public high school for black students in Arkansas City.

In Chicago, Johnson first attended Wendell Phillips High School and later DuSable High School. He proved himself to be a leader at DuSable, serving as class president in both his junior and senior years. Johnson also showed an interest in journalism and became editor of the school’s newspaper. After graduating in 1936, Johnson went to work for the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company.

Creator of ‘Ebony’ and ‘Jet’

At Supreme Liberty, Johnson found a mentor in company president Harry H. Pace. Pace soon gave Johnson the job of editing the company newspaper and later had him collect news stories related to African Americans from media reports. This news gathering task became the inspiration for Johnson’s first publishing venture.

Unable to secure a loan from a bank due to his skin color, Johnson used his mother’s furniture as collateral to raise $500 to launch the Johnson Publishing Company, and printed his first issue of Negro Digest in November 1942. Three years later, Johnson debuted Ebony, a general interest magazine for African Americans. The first issue sold 50,000 copies, making Johnson the owner of the nation’s most widely circulated black publication. He soon convinced major companies to advertise in his publication, and he has been credited with creating the black consumer market. Johnson added to his successful publishing company in 1951 with Jet, a newsweekly magazine.

Johnson expanded in new directions with the creation of the Ebony Fashion Fair in 1958, a venture overseen by his wife, Eunice. He and Eunice had married in 1941 and adopted two children, son John Jr. and daughter Linda. The success of the fashion fair inspired them to launch their makeup company, Fashion Fair Cosmetics, in 1973. Johnson Publishing also branched into other forms of media, eventually operating multiple radio stations. By the early 1980s, Johnson had become one of the country’s richest business leaders with an estimated net worth of $100 million.

Activist and Philanthropist

Throughout his career, Johnson was a strong supporter of the civil rights movement. In 1955, he helped raise awareness about racial injustice by publishing photographs of Emmett Till, a black teenager who had been murdered by angry white men for reportedly flirting with a white woman. Jet was one of the first media outlets to print these images of brutality, which put a spotlight on the horrific racial conditions in the South.

Johnson also had Martin Luther King Jr. write an advice column for Ebony in the late 1950s. This column gave King a national platform to garner support for the civil rights movement. Active in local politics, Johnson helped Harold Washington become the first African American to win election as Chicago’s mayor in 1983. He was involved in international diplomacy as well, serving as a special ambassador to the Ivory Coast and Kenya independence ceremonies in the 1960s.

Over the years, Johnson received numerous awards and accolades for his contributions to society. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1996. At the time, Clinton credited Johnson with giving "African Americans a voice and a face, in his words, 'a new sense of somebody-ness, of who they were and what they could do.' "

Final Years

Throughout his career, Johnson made his company a family affair; he not only worked with his wife, but his daughter, Linda, as well. (John Jr. died in 1981.) Johnson appointed Linda to take over the reins of his company in 2002 as president and CEO, although he remained its chairman and publisher until his death from heart failure on August 8, 2005.

Johnson was given a send-off fit for a world leader, his body laying in state for a time at the Johnson Publishing Company’s Chicago headquarters. At his funeral, more than 1,000 people gathered to say goodbye, including activist Al Sharpton, politician Carol Moseley Braun and future U.S. President Barack Obama. Poet and author Maya Angelou also offered a touching tribute, recalling Johnson as having “the vision of a William Randolph Hearst and the perseverance of the legendary hero, John Henry. With his gifts, he introduced an entire race to the beauty and the brilliance they already had.”

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Sheila Johnson
Sheila Johnson

01.25.1949 –

Sheila Johnson is an African-American entrepreneur who co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) and is part-owner of the three sports teams in the NHL, NBA and the WNBA.


Sheila Johnson was born on January 25, 1949, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979. The successful station focused on African American audiences and was sold to Viacom for $3 billion in 2002. Johnson is currently part-owner of sports teams including the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Mystics (WNBA) and is the second wealthiest black female in the United States.

Early Life and Career

Entrepreneur Sheila Crump Johnson was born on January 25, 1949, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Her father, a neurosurgeon who worked for the Veterans Administration, and her mother, an accountant, were both accomplished pianists. Johnson inherited her parents' musical talents, beginning to play the violin seriously at the age of nine. Johnson also displayed flashes of her future entrepreneurial spirit as a child. She crafted purses out of oatmeal boxes and potholders, going door-to-door to sell them to her neighbors.

Due to her father's job with the Veterans Administration, Johnson's family was often on the move, relocating 12 times during her childhood before finally settling down for good in Maywood, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. There, she attended Irving High School before transferring to Proviso.

An accomplished young musician, in high school Johnson served as the concertmaster of the Illinois All-State Choir, and upon graduating from Proviso High School in 1966 she received a full scholarship to study music at the University of Illinois. Her assigned mentor during orientation week was an upperclassman named Robert Johnson, and the pair quickly fell in love. Two years later, in 1969, they married. Sheila Johnson sewed her own wedding dress from an "idiot-proof" McCall's pattern and the ceremony cost a grand total of $50.

Black Entertainment Television

In 1971, two years after her marriage, Johnson graduated from Illinois with a bachelor's degree in music performance and education. After her graduation, Johnson moved to Washington, D.C. There she landed a job teaching violin at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School, while her husband took a job with the Public Broadcasting Corporation. To supplement her meager teacher's salary, Sheila Johnson also began teaching private violin lessons out of her home.

The lessons grew into a successful enterprise, and when Johnson had enrolled 100 students she quit her job at Sidwell Friends to devote all her attention to private teaching. She took her students on several tours around the world, including a stop in Jordan where they performed for the King and Queen. And it was by running her own music instruction business that Johnson developed into a shrewd businesswoman. "I learned tax law, how to deduct for the space, even for toilet paper," she later recalled. "I always kept good records."

While Johnson concentrated on her music business, her husband managed to secure a $500,000 investment from cable TV mogul John Malone, allowing Robert and Sheila Johnson to co-found their own cable TV network, Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979. A decade later, in 1989, Sheila Johnson abandoned her music business to join BET full time as head of community relations. She also developed and produced her own show, Teen Summit, an acclaimed talk show where African-American youth discussed the pressing issues of the day.

However, as BET devoted more of its airtime to music videos, and as the videos grew increasingly sexually explicit, Johnson grew disenchanted with the direction of the network. She said, "I do worry about young kids at such an early age watching videos day in and day out where young women are ... being depicted in demeaning ways. Women and young girls think they should act like that in order to attract a man and behave that way in order to get through life." Johnson frequently expressed her grievances to her husband and received the unvarying response: "It's not about education, it's about entertainment."

Professional differences became personal differences, and Sheila and Robert Johnson divorced in 2002, splitting after 33 years of marriage. They have a daughter, Paige Johnson, a world class equestrian with Olympic ambitions, as well as a son, Brett Johnson. Two years before their divorce, in 2000, Robert Johnson sold BET to Viacom for $3 billion; both Johnsons now rank among the wealthiest African-Americans in the country.

Business Success

Since her divorce, Sheila Johnson has developed into an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur in her own right. In 2005, she founded Salamander Hospitality, a hospitality and management company through which she owns and manages two resorts and an inn, among other properties. She is also the Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment; as the majority owner of the Washington Mystics WNBA franchise and a minority owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards and NHL's Washington Capitals, she is the first black woman with a stake in three professional sports teams. She is also a documentary film producer of acclaimed pictures such as A Powerful Noise (2008) and The Other City (2010), a film about the AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C.

In 2005, Johnson married for a second time to the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr.—the judge who presided over her divorce proceedings three years before. Johnson and Newman did not meet at the divorce proceedings; they had actually acted in a play together many years before. After her divorce hearing finished, Johnson recalls, "I asked if I could approach the bench." She then walked up to Newman and asked, "Do you remember me?"

With an estimated net worth of $400 million, she ranks second only to Oprah Winfrey among the wealthiest black females in the United States and seventh among all African-Americans. President Barack Obama recently appointed her to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and she also sits on the board of numerous foundations and universities. Asked what business model has allowed her to achieve such incredible success, Johnson revealed that her business model is not to follow any model: "When I instinctively feel it is the right move to make, I do it," she explained, adding, "And I don't do it in a stupid way, I do it where I can see really the upside."

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Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson

08.14.1959 –

For 12 years, Earvin "Magic" Johnson dominated the court as one of America's best basketball players. In 1991, he announced that he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.


Born Earvin Johnson Jr. on August 14, 1959, in Lansing, Michigan, Magic Johnson dominated the court as one of America's best basketball players for 12 years. He retired from the LA Lakers in 1991 after revealing that he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He has since then built up a business empire, which includes real estate holdings, several Starbucks franchises, and movie theaters. He is also an author.

Early Life

Basketball icon Magic Johnson was born Earvin Johnson Jr. on August 14, 1959, in Lansing, Michigan. For 12 years, Johnson dominated the court as one of America's best basketball players. He has since then built up a business empire, which includes real estate holdings, several Starbucks franchises, and movie theaters.

From a large family, Johnson grew up with nine brothers and sisters. Both of his parents worked—his father for the General Motors plant in town and his mother for as a school custodian. He had a passion for basketball, and would start practicing as early as 7:30 a.m. At Everett High School, Johnson earned his famous nickname, "Magic," after a sportswriter witnessed him score 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 assists in a single game.

Passion for Basketball

Magic Johnson continued to play in college for Michigan State University. Standing at 6 feet 9 inches tall, he made for an impressive point guard. Johnson excelled during his freshman year, helping his team, the Spartans, clinch the Big Ten Conference title. The following year, he played an important role in taking the Spartans all the way to the NCAA Finals. There they faced off against the Indiana State Sycamores. In one of the most famous match-ups in college basketball history, Johnson went head-to-head with Indiana's star forward, Larry Bird. The Spartans proved victorious, and the Johnson-Bird rivalry would follow the players to their days with the NBA.

Leaving college after two years, Johnson was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979. He did well in his first season (1979-80) with the team, averaging 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. Johnson won the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award for his efforts in leading the Lakers to a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, winning four of six games in the championship series. The team also included such strong players as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon.

NBA Star

During Magic Johnson's third season (1981-82) with the team, the Lakers made the NBA Finals again. For the second time in his pro career, the Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers for the championship title. Additionally, Johnson, who scored 13 points, and made 13 rebounds and 13 assists in Game 6 of the 1982 Finals, earned his second series MVP award. The following season (1982-83) saw the third Finals match-up between the Lakers and the 76ers in four years. This time, however, L.A. was defeated by Philadelphia, losing four consecutive games to the 76ers and winning none during the series.

In the 1984 NBA Finals, Johnson again encountered rival Larry Bird, who had signed with the Boston Celtics. This was the first of several match-ups between the two teams. The Celtics beat the Lakers in a tight competition—four games to three—for the 1984 championship. The Lakers, however, took down the Celtics the following year in the finals.

Johnson and his team continued to be one of the NBA's top competitors throughout the rest of the 1980s. In the 1987 NBA Finals, they again defeated the Boston Celtics, and Johnson received the NBA Finals MVP Award for the third and final time in his career. This remarkable season marked Johnson's personal best in terms of average points per game, with an incredible 23.9. Additionally, in 1987, he received his first NBA MVP award for his performance on the court—an honor he would receive again in 1989 and 1990.

HIV Diagnosis

In November 1991, Magic Johnson retired from the Lakers after revealing that he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. He believed he contracted the disease through unprotected sexual activity. The diagnosis was especially hard for Johnson. At the time he learned he had the disease, his wife Cookie was pregnant with their first child. Both his wife and son, Earvin III, turned out to not have HIV.

At the time, many people thought the virus mostly affected homosexuals or intravenous drug users. There was also a lot of fear and confusion regarding how the disease could be transmitted. Johnson's decision to go public with his medical condition helped raise awareness about the disease. He established the Magic Johnson Foundation to support HIV/AIDS research efforts and awareness programs that same year. In 1992, he wrote the educational guide What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS.

Undeterred, Johnson played in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. Along with Michael Jordan and Larry Bird, he was part of the American "Dream Team" that won the gold medal. He hoped to return to professional basketball for the next season, but he dropped that plan amidst fear from other players who were concerned about playing with an HIV-positive competitor.

Retirement and Legacy

Magic Johnson explored other options after leaving basketball. In 1992, he had his latest book, My Life, published. Johnson had previously written two books about himself and the game, 1983's Magic and 1989's Magic's Touch. He also appeared on television as a sports commentator. During the 1993-1994 basketball season, Johnson tried his hand at coaching with the Lakers. He then bought a small share of the team.

In 1996, staging a brief comeback, Johnson returned for a few months to the Lakers as a player. He finally retired for good that same year, leaving behind an impressive legacy. Over his long career, Johnson scored 17,707 points and made 10,141 assists, 6,559 rebounds and 1,824 steals. He also became the all-time leader in NBA assists per game, with an average of 11.2—a title that he continues to hold today. Johnson was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Just as he had dominated the courts, Johnson became a powerful force in business. He created Magic Johnson Enterprises, which has a variety of holdings. Much of his efforts have focused on developing urban areas, bringing Starbucks coffee franchises and movie theaters into underserved communities. In 2008, he shared his secrets for success with the book 32 Ways to be a Champion in Business.

Recently, Johnson reteamed with Larry Bird to write the 2009 book When the Game Was Ours, which explores their rivalry, their experiences on the court, and the sport they love. That same year, he was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.

In addition to son Earvin, Johnson and his wife, Cookie, have a daughter named Elisa, whom they adopted in 1995. He also has a son, Andre, from a previous relationship.

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Jay Z
Jay Z

12.04.1969 –

In addition to his award-winning hip-hop albums, Jay Z is known for an array of successful business interests, as well as his marriage to singer Beyoncé.


Born Shawn Corey Carter in New York City on December 4, 1969, Jay Z grew up in Brooklyn's drug-infested Marcy Projects. He used rap as an escape, appearing for the first time on Yo! MTV Raps in 1989. After selling millions of records with his Roc-a-Fella label, Jay Z created his own clothing line and founded an entertainment company. He wed popular singer and actress Beyoncé in 2008.

Early Life

Rapper Jay Z was born Shawn Corey Carter on December 4, 1969, in Brooklyn, New York. "He was the last of my four children," Jay Z's mother, Gloria Carter, later recalled, "the only one who didn't give me any pain when I gave birth to him, and that's how I knew he was a special child." His father, Adnes Reeves, left the family when Jay Z was only 11 years old. The young rapper was raised by his mother in Brooklyn's drug-infested Marcy Projects.

During a rough adolescence, detailed in many of his autobiographical songs, Shawn Carter dealt drugs and flirted with gun violence. He attended Eli Whitney High School in Brooklyn, where he was a classmate of the soon-to-be-martyred rap legend Notorious B.I.G. As Jay Z later recalled in one of his songs ("December 4th"): "I went to school, got good grades, could behave when I wanted/But I had demons deep inside that would raise when confronted."

Rise to Hop-Hop Fame

Carter turned to rap at a young age as an escape from the drugs, violence and poverty that surrounded him in the Marcy Projects. In 1989, he joined the rapper Jaz-O—an older performer who served as a kind of mentor—to record a song called "The Originators," which won the pair an appearance on an episode of Yo! MTV Raps. It was at this point that Shawn Carter embraced the nickname Jay Z, which was simultaneously an homage to Jaz-O, a play on Carter's childhood nickname of "Jazzy" and a reference to the J/Z subway station near his Brooklyn home.

But even though he had a stage name, Jay Z remained relatively anonymous until he and two friends, Damon Dash and Kareem Burke, founded their own record label, Roc-a-Fella Records, in 1996. In June of that year, Jay Z released his debut album, Reasonable Doubt. Although the record only reached No. 23 on the Billboard charts, it is now considered a classic hip-hop album, featuring songs such as "Can't Knock the Hustle," featuring Mary J. Blige, and "Brooklyn's Finest," a collaboration with Notorious B.I.G. Reasonable Doubt established Jay Z as an emerging star in hip-hop.

Two years later, Jay Z achieved even broader success with the 1998 album Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life. The title track, which famously sampled its chorus from the Broadway musical Annie, became Jay Z's most popular single to date and won him his first Grammy nomination. "Hard Knock Life" marked the beginning of a fruitful period in which Jay Z would become the biggest name in hip-hop.

During those years, the rapper released a slew of No. 1 albums and hit singles. His most popular songs from this period include "Can I Get A ...," "Big Pimpin'," "I Just Wanna Love U," "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" and "03 Bonnie & Clyde," a duet with future bride Beyoncé Knowles. Jay Z's most acclaimed album of this period was The Blueprint (2001), which would later land on many music critics' lists of the best albums of the decade.

In 2003, Jay Z shocked the hip-hop world by releasing The Black Album and announcing that it would be his last solo record before retirement. Asked to explain his sudden exit from rap, Jay Z said that he once derived inspiration from trying to outshine other great MCs, but he had simply gotten bored due to a lack of competition. "The game ain't hot," he said. "I love when someone makes a hot album and then you've got to make a hot album. I love that. But it ain't hot."

Rap Comeback

In 2006, Jay Z ended his retirement from making music, releasing the new album Kingdom Come. He soon released two more albums: American Gangster in 2007 and Blueprint 3 in 2010. This trio of later albums marked a significant departure from Jay Z's earlier sound, incorporating stronger rock and soul influences in their production and offering lyrics that tackled such mature subjects as the response to Hurricane Katrina, Barack Obama's 2008 election and the perils of fame and fortune. Jay Z noted he was trying to adapt his music to befit his own middle age. "There's not a lot of people who have come of age in rap because it's only 30 years old," he said. "As more people come of age, hopefully the topics get broader and then the audience will stay around longer."

More recently, Jay Z proved that he had both commercial and critical staying power. He teamed up with another famous member of rap royalty, Kanye West, for 2011's Watch the Throne. The album proved to be a triple hit, topping the rap, R&B and pop charts that August. The song "Otis," which samples the late R&B singer Otis Redding, snagged several Grammy Award nominations and the recording was also nominated for Best Rap Album.

Two years after the release of a collaboration album with West, both rappers dropped solo albums within weeks of the other's release date. West's album, Yeezus (2013), was critically lauded for its innovation, while his mentor Jay Z's album gained less than stellar reviews. The rapper's 12th studio album, Magna Carta Holy Grail (2013), was seen as decent, but failed to live up to the hip-hop star's larger-than-life reputation.

Expanding Empire

During his hiatus from rapping, Jay Z turned his attention to the business side of music, becoming president of Def Jam Recordings. As president of Def Jam, Jay Z signed such popular acts as Rihanna, Ne-Yo and Young Jeezy, and helped Kanye West's transition from producer to best-selling recording artist. But his reign at the venerable hip-hop label wasn't all smooth sailing; Jay Z resigned as Def Jam's president in 2007, complaining about the company's resistance to change from ineffectual business models. "You have record executives who've been sitting in their office for 20 years because of one act," he lamented.

In 2008, Jay Z signed a $150 million contract with the concert promotion company Live Nation. This super deal created a joint venture called Roc Nation, an entertainment company that handles nearly all aspects of its artists' careers. In addition to Jay Z himself, Roc Nation manages Shakira, Kanye West, Timbaland and Rihanna, among many others.

Jay Z's other business ventures include the popular urban clothing line Rocawear and Roc-a-Fella Films. He also owns the 40/40 Club, an upscale sports bar that opened in New York City and later added venues in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and Atlanta. Jay Z became part owner of the Brooklyn Nets basketball franchise, which moved to a new home, the Barclays Center, in 2012. In 2013 he launched a full-service sports management company, Roc Nation Sports, and sold his Brooklyn Nets shares in order to pursue certification as a sports agent. As Jay Z once rapped about his business empire, "I'm not a businessman/ I'm a business, man."

The business of Jay Z made headlines once again in March 2015, when he and several of his high-powered friends, such as Madonna, Nicki Minaj and Jack White, launched Tidal, a streaming music service. The service has gained a reasonable stream of followers — a touted 1 million in September 2015 — but has been met with a great deal of controversy: a revolving door of top management, legal troubles and purportedly no substantial differentiation from competitors.

Political and Charitable Work

After staying out of the political arena for much of his career, Jay Z emerged as a strong supporter of Barack Obama during his first campaign for president in 2008. He appeared at rallies and had only high praise for the African-American candidate. According to the Telegraph newspaper, Jay Z told a crowd that "Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King could walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Obama could run. Obama's running so we all can fly."

Jay Z once again backed Obama for his 2012 reelection bid. That same year, he stepped forward as a supporter of gay marriage. As he told CNN, denying same-sex couples the right to wed "is no different than discriminating against blacks. It's discrimination plain and simple."

In 2015, Jay Z held his first annual charity concert called Tidal X: 10/20. The show raised around $1.5 million, with the funds to be used for social causes determined by the New World Foundation and, a nonprofit started by Harry Belafonte.

Personal Life

Very protective of his private life, Jay Z did not publicly discuss his relationship with longtime girlfriend, popular singer and actress Beyoncé, for years. The couple even managed to keep the press away from their small wedding, which was held on April 4, 2008, in New York City. Only about 40 people attended the celebration at Jay Z's penthouse apartment, including actress Gwyneth Paltrow and former Destiny's Child members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.

Jay Z and Beyoncé welcomed their first child, a daughter named Blue Ivy Carter, on January 7, 2012. Concerned about their privacy and safety, Jay Z and Beyoncé rented part of New York's Lenox Hill Hospital and hired extra guards.

Shortly after the birth of his daughter, Jay Z released a song in her honor on his site. On "Glory," he expressed his joy of becoming a father and revealed that Beyoncé had previously suffered a miscarriage. Jay Z and Beyoncé also posted a message along with the song, saying "we are in heaven" and Blue's birth "was the best experience of both of our lives."

In February 2017, Beyoncé announced on Instagram that she and Jay-Z are expecting twins.

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