For more than 40 years, Essence magazine has celebrated the beauty and potential of African American women. Edward Lewis and Clarence Smith were among the original founders who the handled finance and operations and generated sales, respectively, and together transformed a single publication enterprise into Essence Communications, Inc, a diversified conglomerate that incorporated publishing, entertainment and licensing. Along the way, they were also savvy enough to tap Susan Taylor as Editor-In-Chief in 1981 - the face and voice of the brand for more than 25 years.
In 1995, to celebrate the magazine's 25th anniversary, Lewis and Smith created the Essence Music Festival, which today is arguably one of the nation's largest music festivals with more than a half million people traveling to New Orleans for empowerment sessions, networking opportunities and entertainment that includes big-name acts like Beyonce, Prince and Jill Scott.
ECI opened its door with just $130,000 and, by the time Lewis and Smith received the A.G. Gaston Award, it ranked No. 19 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICE List with gross sales of $93 million. The new millennium brought great change to the company with Time Inc.'s acquisition of a majority interest in 2005, Taylor's departure from the company and the dissolution of the Lewis-Smith partnership, considered one of the most enduring unions in black business for more than three decades.