Essence magazine was first published in 1970 by Essence Communications, Inc., a media company founded by Edward Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingsworth and Jonathan Blount. The magazine has grown into the foremost monthly magazine for African-American women between the ages of 18 and 49, and features columns on celebrities, fashion, beauty and world events. Time, Inc. purchased Essence from Essence Communications in 2005 and has presided over an increase in the magazine's readership to over 8.5 million subscribers, as of 2015.
Edward Lewis and Clarence O. Smith, two young entrepreneurs who grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City, were the main ideological engines behind the advent of Essence magazine. The first issue of Essence had a modest circulation of 50,000 copies, but the magazine quickly became popular among middle class black women in the United States. Circulation for modern-day iterations of the magazine regularly tops one million copies.
Essence Communications, Inc. has branched out into several related business ventures due to the overwhelming success of Essence magazine. These ventures include a popular music festival, a weekly television show, a fashion line and related catalog, an annual awards show and a literary awards program. The Essence Festival takes place in New Orleans annually and is considered the largest celebration of African-American musicians, artists and authors that takes place in the United States.