Ebony & Essence: Black Media Excellence

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     Media representation matters. The visionaries who created these giants of Black American medai, John H. Johnson, and the 4 Black men who founded Essence Communications, saw that Black people weren't well represented in media, and they set out to change that. Ebony and Essence started as magazines, and grew into multifaceted media empires that remain industry leaders today.

Day 5 - E is for Ebony & Essence Magazines

Ebony Magazine


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    Starting with its first issue in November 1945, Ebony chronicled black life and contributions across regions and generations. It was the first Black-oriented magazine in the United States to attain national circulation. In documenting the American experience, Ebony extended its value beyond its iconic place in American popular culture. As an archival resource, the publication reimagined its meaning and value as a vital record of American history. Against the backdrop of Jim Crow, Ebony magazine addressed African American cultural and political realities. From the lives of Hollywood celebrities to the ongoing fight for human and civil rights, Johnson Publishing Company publications documented key moments in African American life that changed how we think about ourselves as a nation.

John H. Johnson, Publisher

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     John H. Johnson, widely regarded as the most influential African American publisher in American history, was born on January 19, 1918, in Arkansas City, Arkansas. In 1942, Johnson launched Negro Digest, which later became Black World. Three years later, he launched Ebony, which has remained the number-one African American magazine in the world every year since its founding. n 1951, Johnson Publishing expanded again, with the creation of Jet, the world’s largest African American news weekly magazine. Johnson also expanded from magazine publishing into book publishing, and owned Fashion Fair Cosmetics, the largest black-owned cosmetics company in the world.

Ebony Fashion Fair

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    For more than 50 years, a group of African-American models traveled the country by charter bus, bringing haute couture to the masses. They walked the runway, donning outfits from the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Givenchy, gowns that cost thousands of dollars. These women were a part of the Ebony Fashion Fair, the first fashion show to employ African-American models, shaking up the industry and becoming a cultural phenomenon in the process. Founded by Eunice W. Johnson, of the Johnson Publishing Company, the Ebony Fashion Fair became a galvanizing event known for its live music and choreographed dance numbers, raising $50 million for charities and scholarships over its multi-decade run.

Susan L. Taylor, Editor

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    Susan L. Taylor. She heard that Essence Magazine, a fledgling publication catering to African American women, was looking for a beauty editor. Taylor approached the then editor-in-chief Ed Lewis for the position and, in 1970 at the age of twenty-three, was hired. Although Susan Taylor had never attended college, she was a licensed cosmetologist who understood the specific needs and concerns of black women. Her monthly articles were popular with African American females who were historically undervalued and underrepresented by media companies. Taylor soon became responsible for fashion as well as beauty and, in 1981, was promoted to editor-in-chief, a post which she held until July 2000.

Essence Magazine

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    ESSENCE is the premiere lifestyle, fashion and beauty magazine for African-American women. With its motivating message, intimate girlfriend-to-girlfriend tone, compelling and engaging editorial lineup and vibrant and modern design, ESSENCE is the definitive voice of today’s dynamic African-American woman. ESSENCE speaks directly to a Black woman’s spirit, her heart and her unique concerns. Every month African-American women rely on ESSENCE for editorial content designed to help them move their lives forward personally, professionally, intellectually and spiritually. The first issue of ESSENCE hit the newsstands in May 1970.

Essence Music Festival

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    Known as 'the party with a purpose.' Essence Music Festival got its start in 1995, celebrating the 25th anniversary of its namesake magazine Essence. It is the largest Black music and culture event in the United States. This lineup from the 2018 Essence Music Festival shows the Black star power that makes this a monumental event every year. Held in New Orleans, the festival features multiple stages, and related celebrations throughout the city.

Essence Communications

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    Essence Communications grew out of a conference for aspiring African-American entrepreneurs attended by, among others, Edward Lewis, a First National City Bank executive trainee, and Clarence O. Smith, a Prudential insurance salesman. The company that would become Essence was founded in 1969 as the Hollingsworth Group by Lewis, Smith, Cecil Hollingsworth, a graphics consultant, and Jonathan Blount, an advertising salesman, in order to publish the first general-interest magazine aimed at African-American women.