By Edwin Buggage
It is that time a year again where a sea of ebony faces will converge on New Orleans from July 5th thru 8th for the Party with a Purpose; yes, it is Essence Fest and this year it is bigger and better than ever.
Additionally, this has been a year of change and growth where Essence is under new ownership and is in a transition and headed in a new direction. Data News Weekly, caught up with Joy Profet, Essence Communications General Manager and Cori Murray, Essence Entertainment Director, to speak about this year’s festival, the Essence brand, the importance of their platform for black women, the Me Too Movement and the festival and its connection to New Orleans.
Essence Fest continues to grow in its over two decade’s existence; becoming the premier summer festival in the country and even serving as inspiration for the hit movie Girls Trip.
“The festival have grown to four days. First day is our day of service communities throughout the city. We will also be giving out awards to heroines across the city at an event we are having the Ashe Cultural Center,” says Profet.
Also as the city recently elected its first black female mayor Latoya Cantrell, Essence feels it is the beginning of a new chapter in the relationship with the City of New Orleans. “We are looking forward to Mayor Cantrell and a Kick-off celebration. The first black female mayor a reader of essence and our platform and we are looking forward to that relationship,” remarks Profet of the city’s election of Latoya Cantrell to the city’s highest office.
2018 Best of the Fest
Headlining acts for this year include Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and the Roots and all female hip-hop set featuring Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, Remy Ma and MC Lyte. Also standout artists who have become festival staples Ledisi and Xscape. New Orleans will be represented by DJ Jubilee and Big Freedia who have both taken bounce music to new heights, also on deck is the alt hip-hop artist Pell and R&B newcomer Daniel Ceaser, who’s taken the music industry by storm. The festival as always has something for everybody’s musical palate and is blend of classic artist along with new comers who will be taking the stage in the New Orleans Superdome over the three nights of shows that will always delight.
Since this is a Party with a Purpose, the day programming is meant to inspire, entertain as well as give festival goers a chance to support African-American businesses that are from all over the country. This year keynote speakers include, Rev. Al Sharpton, Michael Eric Dyson, Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too Movement and plenty of others that will leave those in attendance empowered.
100 Percent Black: New Ownership and Direction for Essence
Earlier this year Essence, both its magazine and parent lifestyle brand was sold by Time Inc. to a holding company owned by Shea Moisture and Sundial founder Richelieu Denis. “This acquisition of Essence represents the beginning of an exciting transformation of our iconic brand,” said the company’s president, Michelle Ebanks, in a press release.
Also the company now being entirely black-owned and independent is in a position to do new and exciting things with a brand that’s been serving African-American women for 50 years. “We are excited to be able to return this culturally relevant and historically significant platform to ownership by people and the consumers whom it serves,” said Denis in a press release about his company’s acquisition and future plans for Essence.
Joy Profet talks about the synergy between the new owner and the Essence brand, something that is poised to make the company stronger moving forward. “At the beginning of the year an independent entrepreneur Richelieu Denis, who had a history of working integrally with our community, as the owner of Shea Moisture brand and the Sundial slew of brands. Before he became our owner he was a client and deeply admired Essence. Additionally, he has five daughter who are fans of Essence and a wife who is a fan as well.”
Continuing speaking of the new owner she says, “His entire life been about create products for women of color, so it is a great Essence to join forces of his network of entrepreneurs, promotional platforms into this rich audience of women network of expertise. They understand the brand and how to invest in brand and its audience which is about, black women and for black women. The goal of building an audience of black women globally. It is exiting as we about the beginning of stages. They are all coming to New Orleans and we look forward to taking the Essence brand to the next level, making it more relevant and reaching more people.”
Empowerment: The Essence of what it means to be a Black woman in the 21st Century
Throughout its rich history Essence has been about giving voice to excellence in black women. “We want to put the spotlight on black female entrepreneurs which is one of the faster growing segments of business owners in America,” explains Cori Murray, Essence Entertainment Director while recently in New Orleans. Continuing she says, “We want to continue to tell stories that celebrate women in business, but also talk about their spirituality, self-care, personal finance and how to be beautiful and most of all empowered black women.”
Echoing this holistic approach to telling the story of black women Profet says, “Our brand is about inspiration and being an advocate for women of color. She has such a weight on her shoulders and this is the voice of her aspirations to tell those stories to be an advocate for black women in nearly our 50 year period not just at festival but across the pages of the magazine and all of our platforms.”
New Orleans and the Future of Essence Fest
Essence Fest and New Orleans have come to be synonymous with one and other over its 24 year history. What was planned as a one-time event has become the go to summer festival last year drawing 470,000 people to the city, with 200 million dollars in economic impact for the city.
“We have a great relationship with the city. We are positioned quite well and we will renegotiate our contract with the city in 2019. This will also allow the mayor to have her inaugural this year and help us to create something spectacular for the 25th Anniversary of the fest next year,” excitedly says Joy Profet.
Murray also talked about the special connection between Essence Fest and New Orleans and sees no other city as a better fit. “Essence and New Orleans have been connected for 23 of the 24 years we have been doing this festival and it’s been a strong bond. New Orleans is such an amazing city with so much history; it is the birthplace of Jazz, you have the food, the vibe of the people and the energy of the city. It is just a great city to walk around and be. It is a true spiritual connection we have to New Orleans and I don’t think we can be any place else.”