Essence is a monthly magazine for African-American women between the ages of 18 and 49. The magazine covers fashion, lifestyle and beauty, with an intimate girlfriend-to-girlfriend tone, and their slogan "Fierce, Fun, and Fabulous" suggests the magazine's goal of empowering African-American women. The topics the magazine discusses range from celebrities, to fashion, to point-of-view pieces addressing current issues in the African-American community.
Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingsworth and Jonathan Blount founded Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) in 1968, and it began publishing Essence magazine in May 1970. 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 Communication inc, a publishing company that publishes magazines aimed at African-American women, namely Essence and Suede magazines. In 2005 Time Inc. made a deal with Essence Communication Inc. to purchase the remaining 51 percent it did not already own. The deal placed the ownership of the 34-year-old Essence magazine, one of the United State's leading magazines for women of color, under white ownership.
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, to African-American women in the military, to 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. Bush, provide advice for the business-minded black woman, helping them to reach their full potential. The section named "Tanisha's Tips", written by the magazine's senior editor of personal finance and careers, gives tips on workplace conduct and how to handle a rough job.
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, which has cultural celebrations and empowerment seminars with nights of musical performances, and there are often awards given out honoring prominent musicians in the African-American community. The festival is held every Fourth of July weekend, and has featured some of the biggest names in entertainment, including Prince, Beyoncé, Tamia, 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 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.
Essence magazine hosted the first-annual Essence Literary Awards in New York City on February 7, 2008. The awards were created to celebrate both emerging and established African-American authors in nine categories: Fiction, Memoir, Inspiration, Non-fiction, Current Affairs, Photography, Children's Books, Poetry and Storyteller of the Year.
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.
The magazine also started controversy in 2011 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 way with the magazine after politically conservative views that run counter to what Essence has historically stood for were discovered on his private Facebook page.