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Joan Johnson, who co-founded the black hair company that made Afro Sheen, has died

(CNN) Joan Johnson, who helped create one of the nation's largest black-owned companies, has died.

Johnson, 89, co-founded Johnson Products Company, the pioneering black hair care company which made iconic products such as Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen. She died Friday in Chicago after a long illness.

She started Johnson Products Company in Chicago in 1954 with her husband, George Johnson. They took a $250 investment and turned it into a multi-million dollar company which became the first black-owned company to be traded on the American Stock Exchange (now known as NYSE American).

"When I think about pioneers, the real pioneers are the people who are able to make a path where none exists," her son Eric G. Johnson told CNN. "Johnson Products in many ways was that company. She and my father had no provided path. They created a path where there was none."

Eric Johnson said his mother was the true matriarch of the family.

Her company helped another icon

"(Joan was) someone I always admired," publicist Dori Wilson told CNN. Wilson had known Johnson since about 1970 and said Johnson and her husband were role models for many.

"The Johnsons were the first successful family we in the African American communities read about," she said. "She was perceived as a shrewd and smart businesswoman. I can't remember any other product that was really synonymous with the African American community."

The company also helped the growth of another American icon which got its start in Chicago: "Soul Train." In the early 1970s Johnson Products became a sponsor of the groundbreaking TV dance and musical variety program, which went on to run in national syndication for almost four decades.

She was a college trustee

Johnson's family described her as an advocate for women. She was a trustee at Spelman College, the black women's college in Atlanta, according to her obituary, and her family plans to continue her legacy by supporting the school with an annual scholarship.

She was also known for her sense of style and was a sponsor and organizer of the Congressional Black Caucus Fashion Show.

"She truly was a grande dame in every sense of the work," said Linda Johnson Rice, CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, which formerly published Ebony and Jet magazines. "Dignified, smart, sharp-witted and fun. I have many fond memories of my conversations with her...dispensing life advice. Her life is one to be celebrated."

Services for Johnson will be held Friday in Chicago.

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