LOS ANGELES -- For over 50 years, ESSENCE has been a staple brand in Black culture, growing to become a leading media, technology and commerce company serving Black women and communities.
Caroline Wanga, the chief executive officer of ESSENCE Communications Inc. and chief growth officer of ESSENCE Ventures, explained the genesis of the brand in an interview with On The Red Carpet's Storytellers Spotlight.
"The ESSENCE brand was created when Black women were not seen in the full light of how they should have been. It's a 50-something-year-old brand that was started in a time where a lot of other Black brands [...] also existed. But there was something about the voice, the way that she lives, the way that she exists, what she needs to know about how great she is, that was seen as a gap in the media industry," Wanga explained.
"A group of men decided that it was important to highlight the Black women that are extremely important to them and started this thing called ESSENCE," she continued. "And then halfway through, a festival came about that is still the largest festival in the nation by per day attendance."
After a two-year in-person hiatus due to the COVID pandemic, the highly anticipated ESSENCE Festival Of Culture is back for 2022. The event, which began in 1995, has been called the Super Bowl of festivals as it attracts some of the hottest performers in American culture and draws more than 500,000 attendees. It was initially solely music-based but has now evolved into an event that hosts a variety of activations over the Fourth of July holiday.
This year is especially unique because The Walt Disney Company will be the exclusive entertainment partner and will invite audiences to experience this year's theme: The Power of Joy.
Pauline Malcolm, the chief revenue officer of ESSENCE, explained how storytelling plays a pivotal role at the festival: "We have a filmmaker series and festival that The Walt Disney Company will be sponsoring [that tells] the stories of our beauty, telling the stories of our wellness, through business. It all is holistically woven into the fabric of our festival, through all the different programming that we have. We have panel discussions [and] music is a big part of the storytelling that we do with our nightly concerts."
Wanga further explained how storytelling has been a big part of the African diaspora, and how the ESSENCE brand aims to continue to connect all people of African descent.
"We're going to play our part. Reconnecting the African diaspora is to reconnect the power that is who we are," Wanga said. "Our culture, how we influence the world, what we are capable of has not gone away. It has been dissected."
She continued, "What we're excited to do is bring it together, remind it how great it is, tell the story of before we were enslaved and colonized and return people back to the greatness that was what they were and what the greatness of this future is going to be."
Attendees can expect to see the greatness reflected in this year's star-studded lineup with performances by Kevin Hart, Janet Jackson, Mickey Guyton, New Edition and more.
For the first time this year, Hulu is ESSENCE's official streaming partner and will offer a live stream of select performances and panels, dubbed "ESSENCE FEST PRIMETIME," from July 1-3. Available at no additional cost to Hulu subscribers, the live stream will start at 8 p.m. ET | 7 p.m. CT | 5 p.m. PT each night and run for five hours.
The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of this ABC station.