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Musician Jill Scott appears on the cover of the May 2010 issue of Essence
Musician Jill Scott on the cover of the May 2010 issue of Essence
Frequency6 issues annually
Total circulation
First issueMay 1970; 54 years ago (1970-05)
CompanyEssence Communications
(Essence Ventures)
CountryUnited States
Based inNew York City, New York, U.S.

Essence (stylized in all caps) is an American monthly lifestyle magazine covering fashion, beauty, entertainment, and culture. First published in 1970, the magazine is written for African-American women.[2][3]


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.[4][5] 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.[2] Its initial circulation was approximately 50,000 copies per month, subsequently growing to roughly 1.6 million.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] In January 2018, the magazine returned to a fully black-owned publication after its acquisition by Richelieu Dennis, the founder of Sundial Brands.[9]

In 2020, Black Female Anonymous, a group made up of former and possibly current Essence employees, published a Medium article alleging sexual harassment claims against Dennis, as well as egregious claims of bullying and mistreatment of employees by members of the C-Suite. Following the Medium post, an investigation was launched into the claims.[citation needed]

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, Essence furloughed staff in 2020 after receiving a PPP loan from the government.[10]


In "Black Womanhood: Essence and its Treatment of Stereotypical Images of Black Women," professors stated 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.[2] The magazine features sections called Celebrity, Fashion, Beauty, Hair, Love, and Point-of-View.[11] 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 the late Whitney Houston have appeared on the cover and been featured in the magazine through interviews and photo spreads.[12] 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.[13]


The online version of the magazine opens with large images that also display links to main articles.[14] Scrolling farther the down, viewers of the site will find "Top Stories", "Hot Right Now", and other sections.[14] There are tabs to the various categories of the publication's material, including "Celebrity," "Fashion," "Beauty," "Hair," "Love," "Lifestyle," "News", and "Videos".[14]

Several spots on the website provide links to the magazine's social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, and Google Plus.[14] The bottom of the page presents a "From the Mag" section that features content from the magazine.[14]

Imagery in advertisements

Essence issues in the early 2000s featured mostly black woman models with lighter skin complexions.[15] The magazine then began to include a greater number of models with darker skin complexions.[15]

In terms of hair types, long and wavy hairstyles were almost equally represented as short and curly styles.[15] The sizes of the noses and lips of most of the models were considered average.[15] The bodies of the models were not often displayed.[15] When they were, thinner and average body types were more likely to be shown than fuller body types.[15]

These observations rose out of a study titled "Race and Gender in the Media: A Content Analysis of Advertisements in Two Mainstream Black Magazines."[15] 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.[15]


Essence Music Festival

The Essence Music Festival is the nation's largest annual gathering of African-American musical talent, and has been going on annually since 1994 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 music, including Prince, Beyoncé, Patti LaBelle, Mary J. Blige, Lionel Richie and others.[16]

In 2007, presidential candidates 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.[17] 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 associate 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."[18]


In January 2005 Essence launched a 12-month initiative to combat misogyny in hip-hop culture.[6] The campaign, titled "Take Back the Music", was intended to inspire public dialogue about the portrayal of black women in rap music.[20] Essence also holds a Young Women's Leadership Conference, and released a book in 2009 titled Essence Presents: The Black Woman's Guide to Healthy Living.[21]


Awards run by Essence

Black Women In Hollywood Awards

This long-running award event, held each February on the Thursday before the Oscars,[22] began in 2008 and continues to this day. His ceremony annually honors black women who have achieved success in Hollywood.[23]

In the event's first decade, awards were presented in several categories. Beginning in 2017, the event had a single theme and individuals were honored, with no specific award titles.


Essence Literary Awards

The first and only Essence Literary Awards ceremony was held in New York City on February 7, 2008, 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.[28] The honorees were as follows:

Awards received by Essence


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.[8]

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 had no control over the content of the magazine and was only to oversee the day-to-day operations of the magazine.[34] In April 2012, Bullerdick parted ways with the magazine after politically conservative views that ran counter to what Essence has historically stood for were discovered on his private Facebook page.[35]

In July 2020, controversy rose again when anonymous magazine staffers alleged mistreatment and abuse under the leadership of Richelieu Dennis. In a post called "Black Female Anonymous" on Medium, it is alleged that senior staffers subjected black female employees to sexual harassment, pay inequity and bullying. Dennis subsequently stepped down and named Caroline Wanga as interim CEO.[36][37][38][39]



  1. ^ "eCirc for Consumer Magazines". Audit Bureau of Circulations. December 31, 2017. Archived from the original on July 24, 2012. Retrieved May 9, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Woodard, Jennifer Bailey (November 1, 2005). "Black Womanhood: Essence and its Treatment of Stereotypical Images of Black Women". Journal of Black Studies. 36 (2): 264–281. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/0021934704273152. S2CID 144676210.
  3. ^ Danky, James Philip; Hady, Maureen E. (1998). African-American newspapers and periodicals : a national bibliography. Mark Graham. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press. p. 214. ISBN 978-0-674-00788-8.
  4. ^ "Magazines in Alphabetical Order". Radcliffe Institute. Retrieved October 19, 2015.
  5. ^ Krishnan, Satya P.; et al. (1997). "Coverage of AIDS in Popular African American Magazines" (PDF). Health Communication. 9 (3): 273–288. doi:10.1207/s15327027hc0903_5. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 26, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c Bynoe, Yvonne. Encyclopedia of Rap and Hip-hop Culture. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006, p. 263, ISBN 978-0-313-33058-2.
  7. ^ Richard Campbell; Christopher R. Martin; Bettina Fabos (February 20, 2012). Media and Culture with 2013 Update: An Introduction to Mass Communication. Macmillan. p. 277. ISBN 978-1-4576-0491-1. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
  8. ^ a b Carr, David. The New York Times, 2005.
  9. ^ Reed, Sam (January 4, 2018). "Shea Moisture Founder Buys Essence Magazine, Returns to 100 Percent Black Ownership". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 7, 2018.
  10. ^ Tani, Maxwell (September 30, 2020). "Essence Magazine Furloughs Staff Due to COVID-19 Revenue Losses". The Daily Beast. Retrieved October 2, 2020.
  11. ^ "Essence",
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  13. ^ "Essence Magazine". AALBC.
  14. ^ a b c d e "Essence". 2017. Retrieved May 12, 2017.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h Hazell, Vanessa (September 2008). "Race and Gender in the Media: A Content Analysis of Advertisements in Two Mainstream Black Magazines". Journal of Black Studies. 39 (1): 5–21. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/0021934706291402. JSTOR 40282545. S2CID 144876832.
  16. ^ PR Newswire US, 2012.
  17. ^ New Musical Express, 2009.
  18. ^ "Essence Festival Durban 2016 – Passion, Inspiration & Power". 5 Star Durban Magazine. September 23, 2016.
  19. ^ "2017 Essence Festival Concerts Tickets, Parties and Events Guide". The Party Fixx Company. 2017. Archived from the original on March 7, 2017. Retrieved July 16, 2017.
  20. ^ Weisstuch, Lisa (January 12, 2005). "Sexism in rap sparks black magazine to say, 'Enough!'". The Christian Science Monitor, accessed October 3, 2011.
  21. ^ a b Dumenco, Simon. Advertising Age, 2008.
  22. ^ The Editors of Essence (February 16, 2018). ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood: A Salute to Trailblazers at the Oscars. Time Inc. Books. ISBN 978-1-5478-4316-9.
  23. ^ Fluker, Dominique. "How ESSENCE'S Black Women In Hollywood Awards Is Further Diversifying Hollywood". Forbes. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af "A Look Back at All of ESSENCE's Black Women in Hollywood Honorees". Essence. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  25. ^ "ESSENCE To Honor Tiffany Haddish, Lena Waithe, Danai Gurira & Tessa Thompson At 2018 Black Women In Hollywood Event". Essence. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  26. ^ a b "ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards To Honor Amandla Stenberg, Jenifer Lewis, Kiki Layne & Regina Hall". Essence. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  27. ^ "Inside The 2020 ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards". Essence. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  28. ^ "First-Ever Essence Literary Awards Celebrate African-American Writers". Retrieved June 28, 2020.
  29. ^ Lewis, Edward (February 16, 2016). The Man from Essence: Creating a Magazine for Black Women. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4767-0349-7.
  30. ^ "The American Magazine Vanguard Awards". October 6, 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2020.
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Further reading