There was a lot of “Yaaaas” at this year’s Essence Fest and not just for the performers or the fashion. Much deserved praise is being heaped upon the Black women in corporate sponsor leadership who make Essence Fest a reality.
Over the past 25 years, Essence has grown the festival from a popular music focused destination to the wide-ranging cultural powerhouse that it is today. This year more than half a million people descended upon New Orleans to take in the music, politics, comedy, style, and so much more that Essence had to offer.
“The 25th anniversary Essence Festival represented a truly transformative global homecoming celebration for Black women and the Black community,” said Essence Chief Executive Officer Michelle Ebanks in a press release. “This year’s extraordinary turnout reflects Essence’s uniquely powerful engagement of Black women around personal empowerment, community, and culture as only Essence can. With the debut of 10 new Festival experiences, activations at more than 40 venues across New Orleans, and engagement with more than 300 small businesses and local vendors, we have redefined the Festival as the largest and most impactful destination at the epicenter of Black culture.”
That type of growth comes not only from the legacy brand’s hard-working team, but also the corporate sponsors who underwrite some of the big costs associated with putting on such a massive event.
True diversity in the boardroom is the only way to bring mainstream corporate dollars to Black cultural institutions and Essence recognized that by honoring some of the women behind the festival’s largest sponsors.
Representatives from Ford, McDonald’s, Walmart, CocaCola, State Farm, Disney, and AT&T were all presented with special awards for their companies’ continued support of the Essence Festival. Essence Ventures CEO Richelieu Dennis also took the time to announce a new name for the festival.
“The things we are doing here are driven solely for the development and continuous evolution of our culture. As we progress with intention, we are changing the name of the festival to the Essence Festival of Culture. It is a manifestation and celebration of Black culture globally, it is an expression of our culture in real, physical tangible ways, and also in emotional, social, and economic ways. We’re grateful for your support and partnership as we level up to the next 25 years,” said Dennis at the welcome press conference to officially kick off the festival.
Lizette Williams, Head of Cultural Engagement & Experiences for the McDonald’s Corporation, shared why the fast food giant supports the Essence Festival.
“Essence is a media company that is about, for and works in support of Black women. At McDonald’s we stand right along side that mission. We have a shared commitment to showcase the African American narrative in a positive light. That’s what brought us to this year’s groundbreaking campaign launch, Black and Positively Golden,” explained Williams who also gushed about their owner operators. At a sponsored breakfast for the press,, McDonald’s representatives noted that there are more than 300 African American owner/operators in the McDonald’s family and they generate $2.7 billion in revenue on an annual basis.
But the #BlackGirlMagic glow up goes beyond just the corporate world, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the first woman (of any race) to lead the city of New Orleans, explained how she is an Essence Fest supporter
“I’m happy about being the first Black woman mayor of New Orleans, but my greatest joy is knowing that I will not be the last. That’s what Essence is all about. We can be unapologetic for sharing, loving, and showing our beauty inside and out. When women lead, we bring everybody else with us. Women get things done,” said Mayor Cantrell through a swell of enthusiastic applause.
Over the past 25 years, the Essence Fest has generated $4 billion in revenue for New Orleans.
Loni Love, who this year became the first woman to host the Essence Fest main stage, got emotional when she shared what Essence has meant to her over the years. It’s clear that the impact of the festival, especially for Black women, is far reaching and well beyond just entertainment. Watch the video of Loni Love’s moment below.