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Jill Scott on the cover of the May 2010 issue of Essence
|First issue||May 1970|
(Essence Ventures), Triangle Communications (1970-1985)
|Based in||New York City, New York, U.S.|
Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingsworth and Jonathan Blount founded Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) in 1968. It began publishing Essence magazine in May 1970. Lewis and Smith called the publication a "lifestyle magazine directed at upscale African American women". They recognized that Black women were an overlooked demographic and saw Essence as an opportunity to capitalize on a virtually untouched market of Black women readers. Its initial circulation was approximately 50,000 copies per month, subsequently growing to roughly 1.6 million. Gordon Parks served as its editorial director during the first three years of its circulation.
In 2000, Time Inc. purchased 49 percent of Essence Communications Inc. In 2005, Time Inc. made a deal with Essence Communications Inc. to purchase the remaining 51 percent. The deal placed the ownership of the 34-year-old Essence magazine, one of the United States' leading magazines for women of color, under widespread ownership, rather than black ownership. In January 2018, the magazine returned to a fully black-owned publication after its acquisition by Richelieu Dennis, the founder of Sundial Brands.
In "Black Womanhood: Essence and its Treatment of Stereotypical Images of Black Women," professors explained that diverse images of Black women are not often included in white magazines and media but that those Black women can see themselves in different lights in Essence. The magazine features sections called Celebrity, Fashion, Beauty, Hair, Love, and Point-of-View. The magazine has covered topics from family, to social issues in the African-American community, African-American women in the military, and being HIV positive. Celebrities including Michelle Obama and Whitney Houston have appeared on the cover and been featured in the magazine through interviews and photo spreads. Originally launched primarily as a fashion magazine, Essence has grown to be a guideline for African-American women in many aspects of life.
Frequent contributors, including current editor-in-chief Vanessa K. De Luca, provide advice for the business-minded black woman, helping them to reach their full potential.
The online version of the magazine opens with large images that also display links to main articles. Scrolling farther the down, viewers of the site will find "Top Stories", "Hot Right Now", and other sections. There are tabs to the various categories of the publication's material, including "Celebrity," "Fashion," "Beauty," "Hair," "Love," "Lifestyle," "News", and "Videos".
Several spots on the website provide links to the magazine's social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, and Google Plus. The bottom of the page presents a "From the Mag" section that features content from the magazine.
In terms of hair types, long and wavy hairstyles were almost equally represented as short and curly styles. The sizes of the noses and lips of most of the models were considered average. The bodies of the models were not often displayed. When they were, thinner and average body types were more likely to be shown than fuller body types.
These observations rose out of a study titled "Race and Gender in the Media: A Content Analysis of Advertisements in Two Mainstream Black Magazines." They were then used to comment on what the image practices of Essence may say about how black media represents black people, chiefly black women, and how these representations may reflect and reveal larger truths about how black people themselves.
The Essence Music Festival is the nation's largest annual gathering of African-American musical talent, and has been going on annually for 18 years in New Orleans, bringing more than 400,000 people. The festival is a three-day event, that includes cultural celebrations, empowerment seminars, and nights of musical performances. Awards honoring prominent musicians in the African-American community are celebrated during the festival as well. The festival is held every Fourth of July weekend, and has featured some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Prince, Beyoncé, Patti LaBelle, Mary J. Blige, Lionel Richie and others.
In 2007, president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton made special appearances at The Essence Music Festival, and in 2009 the festival was held in honor of Barack Obama's inauguration and presidency, with Beyoncé as the headliner. In 2008, after partnering with Essence to develop and tape a co-branded special presentation Black in America: Reclaiming the Dream, CNN reported live on-site throughout the Music Festival weekend.
In 2013, the Essence Music Festival rebranded to the Essence Festival to showcase the event as more than a music festival.
In 2016, the first ever sister event to the Essence Festival was announced – Essence Festival Durban – set to take place in Durban, South Africa on November 8–13.[needs update] Essence President Michelle Ebanks commented at the time, "This is a milestone year for the Essence brand as we get ready to bring one of our most beloved events to the heart of South Africa in the coastal city of Durban which represents an exciting mix of cultures. This inaugural Essence Festival Durban will bring together voices of influence and power from the continent of Africa, the U.S. and across the globe to connect communities and empower women spanning the diaspora."
In January 2005 Essence launched a 12-month initiative to combat misogyny in hip hop culture. The campaign, entitled "Take Back the Music", was intended to inspire public dialogue about the portrayal of black women in rap music. Essence also works to empower women through the magazine, instilling confidence in full-figured African-American women, and giving tips on how to love their hair, and their body, by holding a Young Women's Leadership Conference, and releasing a book in 2009 entitled Essence Presents: The Black Woman's Guide to Healthy Living.
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Essence magazine holds a number of award ceremonies annual. These include:
In 2008, Essence won 12 New York Association of Black Journalists awards in the Investigative, General Feature, International, Business/Technology, Science/Health, Arts and Entertainment, Personal Commentary, Public Affairs and Online categories. The same year, Essence also won an American Magazine Vanguard Award (AVMA), recognizing the magazines that are innovating beyond just the printed word.
The 2005 purchase of Essence Communications Inc. marked the first time an African-American magazine would be owned by a white man, sparking controversy because of the company's 34 years under African-American ownership.
In 2011, the magazine engaged with controversy when the editor-in-chief, Constance C. R. White, announced that the magazine's new managing editor was a white male by the name of Michael Bullerdick. White assured readers that Bullerdick has no control over the content of the magazine and is only to oversee the day-to-day operations of the magazine. In April 2012, Bullerdick parted ways with the magazine after politically conservative views that run counter to what Essence has historically stood for were discovered on his private Facebook page.
There is a question of whether Essence promotes the freedom of the black woman from the world's oppressive images of her as a member of the minority or affirms the stereotypes that attempt to define her. An article in the Journal of Black Studies analyzed how Essence depicts images of black women throughout its pages. The authors of the study hypothesized that the magazine would include more images that dismantled the stereotypes than images that validated them, and the results of their analysis supported their hypothesis.
Essence is one of the black-owned companies profiled in Bayer Mack's 2019 documentary, No Lye: An American Beauty Story, which chronicles the rise and decline of the black-owned ethnic beauty industry.