Marcus Johnson Celebrates his Music and New Wine Label
Marcus Johnson has been called a renaissance man, an innovator and a few other superlatives, all which can easily be backed up by a glance at his resume.
The jazz musician has earned a juris doctorate, a master's of business administration, and he's a top selling recording artist who happens to own a wine label.
"My job is, through music, to make your morning drive a little easier, a little better," he said. "When I was in law school, I understood that being a lawyer especially when you deal with contracts, is art. I'm very different. My exposure was to make sure that I acquired the educational instruments to fight forward."
A native Washingtonian, Johnson grew up in Silver Spring, Md.
He founded the Silver Spring Jazz Festival, owns the Three Keys Music label and has released 17 CDs. Johnson is preparing the release of his next album, "Live and Direct," which is scheduled to be released in May.
"(Playing) live in front of a crowd is my element and, for me, it's taking advantage of the energy that accompanies a live setting," Johnson said. He also has taken advantage of a family background that includes doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
A graduate of Howard University, Johnson, 41, earned his law and business degrees from Georgetown University in Northwest. He won the Small Business Administration's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2010 and, a year later, Johnson secured funding for a new wine label under his Flo Brands company.
"A motivational speaker I know comes to me all the time and tells me that I have a law degree and an MBA and tells me that I'm a businessman who happens to be a musician," Johnson said. "The majority of my day is spent in business meetings."
Johnson not only focuses on the challenges that the music industry presents, his finger remains on the pulse of the world of business, he said.
"It's to be able to control my own destiny. To be able to ask the right questions," he said. "You have to be able to play the game to the best of your ability and, to do that, you must have an idea of what the rules are and to stay above board."
While pursuing his education, Johnson independently produced and distributed his first jazz album in 1995, "Lessons in Love," which sold more than 40,000 copies.
A year later, Johnson released, "Inter Alia," which surpassed the "Titanic" soundtrack in the first two weeks of its release.
Despite a busy schedule, Johnson has continued to expand his lifestyle branding company, Flo – or For the Love of.
Flo began as a music publishing company and expanded to include Flo Wines which is now sold in Giant Food and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., around the country and Target Corporation Stores inside the District, Johnson said.
Johnson sells two types of wine, a Chardonnay and a Red blend. The wine is bottled in Northern California and created using grapes from appellations around the Golden State. The wines sell for $10 per bottle at most locations.
"People like Warren Thompson of Thompson Hospitality and Bob Johnson of BET, don't rest on their laurels, they go out and become 10 times better than they need to be."
The key to his placement in Walmart turned out to be a chance meeting with one of the chain's District representatives while Johnson performed on a cruise ship.
"On the cruise, I spoke to the audience about how excited we were to have our wine in Costco and other places and this woman approached me and said that I didn't mention that I'd be appearing in her store, which was Walmart," Johnson said. "She was manager of distribution with 94 stores and $10 billion in revenue and she took my card and we talked and, during the conversation, she told me she had already sent an email to a guy at Walmart in D.C."
Walmart has changed the destiny of Flo, Johnson said, adding his experience has been nothing short of incredible.
In a statement on Walmart's Supplier Diversity Program, the company has pledged to use its global size and scale to empower minority and women-owned businesses across the chain.
"Walmart's Supplier Diversity Program began in 1994 to ensure minority- and women-owned businesses are an integral part of our supplier network. Our goal is to increase the amount of business we do with minority- and women-owned businesses, to integrate supplier diversity into all of our procurement practices and to ensure Walmart has a diverse supplier community that can supply products that meet our customers' needs," according to the company's statement.
Walmart reports that more than 3,000 women- and minority-owned businesses play an integral role in the store's network of suppliers.
"It is important to understand that a company like Walmart isn't, 'just going to call you up out of the blue,'" Johnson said. "You have to make it happen."
The musician plans an "UnValentine" social event and performance at Takoma Station Tavern on Feb. 14 and a traditional Valentine's show on the 15th at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Northwest. At each venue, Johnson plans to bring his wines.
"Come and hang out and hopefully fall in love," he said. "If you're not with someone, well you can fall in love with yourself and there's nothing wrong with that."