Jill Scott on the cover of the May 2010 issue of Essence
|First issue||May 1970|
|Based in||New York City, New York, U.S.|
Essence, also known as The Magazine for Today's Black Woman, is a privately owned magazine with a predominantly African-American woman audience of readers between the ages of 18-50. The magazine is dedicated to representing and uplifting black women through its motto "Fierce, Fun, and Fabulous." The magazine covers fashion, lifestyle, and beauty stories.
Advertising salesman Jonathan Blount and insurance salesman Clarence Smith thought up Essence, receiving inspiration from an opportunity to brainstorm black business ideas with a Wall Street firm. After partnering with people in finance and printing, they sold their magazine idea to Wall Street and started publication with the help of a team. The magazine was meant to focus more womanhood than blackness. At the time, text dominated images in the magazine, and it was considered to be on its way to becoming a black Cosmopolitan.
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.
Essence was initially founded by men, and some of its editors and authors have also been men. In the total history of Essence, approximately 85 percent of the magazine's articles have been written by women whereas 15 percent of the stories were written by men. Male staff members mostly wrote about being a man and being involved in romantic relationships with a woman. Heterosexual relationships and their importance in present and future black life occupied over 30 percent of the article topics explored by male writers. An additional 30 percent of their articles were dedicated to criticism of their black female counterparts. In fact, gender differences negatively impacted the Essence workplace and magazine during certain moments in its history. Black male patriarchy was explicitly expressed in some of the content written by black male authors. For example, some writers discussed how black women should act and think, as well as highlighted how men and women differed biologically and socially.
Essence covers stories that are relevant to the contemporary Black woman because of their lack of representation in mainstream women's magazines. Although Essence was launched as a fashion magazine, it has grown to include content from various aspects of African-American woman's lives.
The magazine is currently organized by the following sections: Celebrity, Fashion, Beauty, Hair, Love, and Point-of-View. The magazine features diverse topics such as family, racism, the criminal justice system, biographies of successful black women in sectors like entertainment, entrepreneurship, and politics. Celebrities including Michelle Obama and Whitney Houston have appeared on the cover and been featured in the magazine through interviews and photo spreads. Essence also regularly covers stories about African-American women in the military, and medical conditions that disproportionately affect black women such as HIV/AIDS and Sickle Cell Anemia.
Another distinctive feature of Essence are its editors' frequent contributions to the magazine content. For example, current editor-in-chief Vanessa K. Bush provides advice for the business-minded black woman to help them reach their full potential. The section named "Tanisha's Tips" is written by the magazine's senior editor of personal finance and careers, which 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 that includes cultural celebrations, empowerment seminars, and nights of musical performances. Awards honoring prominent musicians in the African-American community is 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, Tamia, Mary J. Blige, and Lionel Richie.
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 from November 8 to 13. 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.
Essence magazine holds an award ceremony annually to honor black women who have achieved success in Hollywood.
Ceremony Annually to Honor black men who have achieved success in Hollywood
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 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.