Photography by Getty Images: Paras Griffin/Stringer
The popularity of the annual Essence Festival is reflective of the success Essence magazine has had since its origins from 1970. Looking to celebrate its 25th anniversary as a wealth of information for African American women, Essence magazine orchestrated its first Festival in 1995. Far from modest, their initial festival featured some of the top performers including Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child, Erykah Badu, Jeffrey Osborne, and Lionel Richie. The event also included platforms and seminars to host discussions, arts, crafts, workshops on starting businesses, and so much more, fully embracing and celebrating Black excellence! The unexpected bustling event was such a hit that Essence Festival became an annual event. Over the years, the festival quickly allured over millions of people. Beyoncé, Prince, Cedric the Entertainer, the Dells and Peabo Bryson are a few of the renowned performers during the annual events. While the music component is a large portion of the event, several workshops and side stages continue to be developed over the years to promote a communal aspect within the Black community, truly supporting its growth on a generational level. Motivational speakers share their knowledge with the interested audience and provide them with the skills to excel in an area of expertise. Vendors are also called to collaborate to broadcast their talents, selling artwork, writing, food, jewelry, and fashionable clothing.
What began as an intended one-time event transformed into unity among the African American community. The Essence Music Festival became a place to reclaim all the talent embedded within Black people and to broadcast it to the world on a declared day of the year. The events were for everyone, performers, artists, locals, small businesses, families - anyone looking to witness firsthand the virtuosity that exists among this community.
Unfortunately, this April 14th, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell recommended that no large events take place in New Orleans in 2020. The Essence Festival fully supports that decision and hopes for its community members to remain safe and healthy. As a result, the 2020 Essence Festival of Culture will not be moving forward this spring. In better news, Essence Festival is planning to move into the fall, with alternate dates to be announced shortly. In the meantime, the new Essence Studios streaming platform will host the first-ever Essence Festival of Culture: The Virtual Edition. This virtual event will take place over the July 4th weekend.
Essence also understands the impact this pandemic is having on businesses throughout the country, spurring the formation of the Essence of the Matter: Covid-19’s Impact on Black America. The purpose of this digital series is to raise money and build capacity for Black businesses and organizations nationwide. A minor setback during 2020 only empowered Essence to seek out alternative ways to remain connected to the community it has cultivated over the years and to promote the longevity of Black communities during these times. By collaborating with renowned wellness practitioners, authors, and community leaders, Essence can bring top tier knowledge and practices to its dedicated readers and supports worldwide all from the comfort of their home.