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Edward Lewis

Magazine publisher and entrepreneur Edward Lewis was born on May 15, 1940, in the Bronx, New York. His father was a night shift janitor at City College; his mother a factory worker and beautician. Lewis attended De Witt Clinton High School, where he excelled academically and was a star fullback on the football team. Upon graduating from high school in 1958, he earned a football scholarship to the University of New Mexico. Lewis received his B.A. degree in political science in 1964 and his M.A. degree in political science and international relations in 1966, both from the University of New Mexico. He later graduated from Harvard University’s Small Business Management Program.

Lewis worked first as an administrative analyst for the City Manager’s Office in Albuquerque, New Mexico from 1964 to 1965, and then as a financial analyst at First National City Bank in New York City from 1965 to 1969. In 1969, he co-founded Essence, a magazine specifically targeted to black women, and went on to serve as CEO and publisher of Essence Communications, Inc. for three decades. In the 1980s and 1990s, Lewis expanded Essence Communications to include a weekly television show, fashion line and mail order catalogue, as well as an annual awards show and Essence music festival. In 1992, Lewis acquired Income Opportunities from Davis Publishing; and, in 1995, he co-founded Latina magazine, a bilingual publication geared toward Hispanic women.

In 1997, Lewis became the first African American chairman of the Magazine Publishers of America. In October 2000, Lewis engineered a partnership with Time, Inc. and Essence Communications was sold to Time in 2005. He later joined the private equity firm Solera Capital as a senior adviser and published a memoir, The Man from Essence: Creating a Magazine for Black Women, in 2014.

Lewis has sat on the boards of TransAfrica, the Rheeland Foundation, New York City Partnership, the Central Park Conservancy, A&P, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Teachers College of Columbia University, Spelman College, Tuskegee University and the Harlem Village Academy; and served as chairman of Latina Media Ventures. He also served on President Barack Obama’s Board of Advisors for the Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Essence magazine ranked seventh on Advertising Age’s 2003 “A-List,” which was the first time that an African American targeted publication received the honor. Lewis’s personal awards include the Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Publishing from Ernst & Young; the President’s Award from One Hundred Black Men of America, Inc.; the Frederick Douglass Award from the New York Urban League; the United Negro College Fund’s Lifetime Achievement Award; the American Advertising Federation Diversity Achievement Award; the Henry Johnson Fisher Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Henry Luce Lifetime Achievement Award. He was inducted into the Advertising Hall of Fame in 2014.

Edward Lewis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 7, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.224

Sex

Male

Interview Date

10/7/2014

Last Name

Lewis

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Schools

DeWitt Clinton High School

University of New Mexico

Georgetown University Law Center

P.S. 35 Stephen Decatur School

P.S. 2 Morrisania School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Edward

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

LEW20

Favorite Season

Thanksgiving

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Bali, Indonesia

Favorite Quote

No Doubt About It.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

5/15/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Sweet Potato

Short Description

Magazine publishing chief executive and entrepreneur Edward Lewis (1940 - ) cofounded Essence Communications, Inc., where he served as the CEO and publisher of Essence magazine.

Employment

Solera Capital

Essence Communications, Inc.

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Edward Lewis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis describes his father's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis talks about his experiences as an only child

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis describes his mother's personality

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis talks about his maternal family members

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Edward Lewis describes his relationship with his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Edward Lewis talks about his maternal family's decision to move north

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Edward Lewis remembers his maternal aunt, Matilene Spencer Berryman

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Edward Lewis describes his earliest childhood memories

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Edward Lewis describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis remembers his early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis describes the racial dynamics of the Bronx, New York

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis remembers his education in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis describes his upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis talks about his mother's second marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis describes his relationship with his father

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Edward Lewis remembers caring for his paternal grandmother

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Edward Lewis remembers visiting his maternal family in Farmville, Virginia

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Edward Lewis describes his neighborhood in the Bronx, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis remembers DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, New York

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis recalls his recruitment to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis talks about adjusting to the University of New Mexico

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis remembers losing his college athletic scholarship

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis recalls his coursework in Russian history

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis describes his student activism

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Edward Lewis remembers his admission to Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Edward Lewis talks about the careers of his football teammates at the University of New Mexico

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Edward Lewis talks about President Richard Nixon

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis recalls losing his scholarship to Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis remembers his experiences at First National City Bank

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis remembers the formation of The Hollingsworth Group, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis remembers the formation of The Hollingsworth Group, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis describes the initial structure of The Hollingsworth Group

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis remembers the first issue of Essence magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Edward Lewis talks about the founding of Essence magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis describes the early advertising in Essence magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis recalls the overhead costs at Essence Communications, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis remembers his mentors in the publishing industry

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis talks about the success of Essence magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis talks about the early editors in chief of Essence magazine

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis remembers his former business partners' lawsuit

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Edward Lewis describes Essence's relationship with Playboy Enterprises, Inc.

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Edward Lewis remembers Marcia Ann Gillespie

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Edward Lewis recalls promoting Susan Taylor as the editor in chief of Essence magazine

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis talks about the magazine industry

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis describes the growth of Essence Communications, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis remembers creating the Essence Music Festival

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis talks about the success of the Essence Music Festival

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis talks about Black Enterprise magazine

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis describes the advertising challenges at Essence Communications, Inc.

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Edward Lewis remembers his business relationship with John H. Johnson

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Edward Lewis talks about Camille Cosby's board membership at Essence Communications, Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Edward Lewis describes the negotiations between Essence Communications, Inc. and Time Inc.

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Edward Lewis describes his departure from Essence Communications, Inc., pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Edward Lewis talks about the future of Essence magazine

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Edward Lewis describes his departure from Essence Communications, Inc., pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Edward Lewis talks about the title of his book, 'The Man from Essence'

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Edward Lewis talks about his plans for the future

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Edward Lewis describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Edward Lewis reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Edward Lewis describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - Edward Lewis reflects upon his life

Tape: 7 Story: 11 - Edward Lewis talks about his second marriage

Tape: 7 Story: 12 - Edward Lewis describes his aspiration to become a blues singer

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

6$4

DATitle
Edward Lewis recalls his coursework in Russian history
Edward Lewis remembers creating the Essence Music Festival
Transcript
Well, you also took up Russian studies and?$$I was very--my curiosity in terms of reading, I read some of the great Russian novelists: Tolstoy [Leo Tolstoy], Dostoyevsky [Fyodor Dostoyevsky]; and I decided to take Russian history. And--I had already taken Russian civilization--that's required when you, in your first years at the university [University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico]. But my interest in Russian history, the professor there was a man named Henry Tobias [Henry J. Tobias]. Henry was a graduate, from Paterson, New Jersey, went to Ohio; got his Ph.D. in Stanford [Stanford University, Stanford, California]. But he taught Russian history, and I took this course. And just--I just ate it up. And I did not know that Professor Tobias was interested in me; and I was on my way--I had gone to the student administration building. I was on my way to the student union to get some coffee, he was coming out, the professor, and he said, "Ed [HistoryMaker Edward Lewis], are you going to have some coffee?" And I said yes. He said, "Do you mind if I sit with you?" I said, "By all means, please." And we sat and he proceeded to--he and I proceeded, to talk for the next three and a half hours. I had never had anyone do that with me. And so as a result of that, this man just opened my head up intellectually; and then I took Russian history. He also taught Chinese history, so I took Chinese history. And so my background in terms of--I was a political science major, but I had an interest in international affairs--particularly, Russian and Chinese history. And so in my travels, I've gone to the Far East, I'm going to China, I've not been to Russia yet but I hope to go to Moscow [Russia] and St. Petersburg [Russia] at some point. But I have a, just a familiarity of Russia, in particularly how serfs, serfdom was portrayed, and how these Russians had to overcome that; and I compare that to how we as blacks had to live in a society in terms of how we had to overcome, too. So I just sort found some familiarity in things of--and when I looked at what happened to the people who were really slaves too and looked at what is happening to us.$So talk about how that came, came about 'cause--?$$That came about because--1994, I was having drinks with a legend in the jazz world, impresario, a man by the name of George Wein. He--George started Newport Jazz Festival, he has a New Orleans jazz festival [New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival]. And he and I were having drinks, and I was telling him about my upcoming, upcoming twenty-fifth anniversary of Essence [Essence Communications, Inc.]. And I'd like--and I, I said, "I'm gonna do the same thing, big party in New York [New York], thank all the advertisers and thank everyone," I said, "I'd like to do something a little bit different." He said to me, "Have you ever thought about doing a music festival in New Orleans [Louisiana] at the Superdome [Louisiana Superdome; Mercedes-Benz Superdome] over the 4th of July weekend?" I looked at him, "No, I had not thought about that." But there was a germ of a, of a, a synergistic opportunity. New Orleans, music, magazine--maybe there's something there. So I suggested he come to my office, make a presentation. He did to Clarence [Clarence Smith], Susan [HistoryMaker Susan Taylor] and my chief financial officer [Harry Dedyo]. Everyone was lukewarm. I listened and thought about it and decided to come to do it and he and I were partners. We were equal partners, 50/50 partners, and that's how we came together in 1995. Lo and behold we had about--roughly, about 100--between 100 and 145,000 people who came. And I can remember giving my speech to fifty thousand people at the Superdome, thanking everyone from the bottom of my heart. I was humble that people would come out and, and be supportive of Essence over its twenty-five years of being in business; and that's how it happened. And the very next year, however, I was about to pull the plug because the, the governor, the new governor of the State of Louisiana, Robert Foster [sic. Mike Foster], made the decision to eliminate all affirmative action programs for the State of Louisiana. I'm a big proponent of affirmative action; and, and, and the way we promoted the festival [Essence Music Festival] was through the magazine, and so word of mouth had gotten out that we may not be doing this, and as you can well imagine, that precipitated a reaction. Marc Morial [HistoryMaker Marc H. Morial], who is now leader of the Urban League [National Urban League] was mayor of, of, of New Orleans. I was--as I said, I was not going back, but then the lieutenant governor of Louisiana, Blanco [Kathleen Blanco], who ultimately became the governor called me and asked if I would be willing to meet with the governor of Louisiana and tell you a story. And I was open to that. And I was--and I also knew that the Urban League was going to hold its convention in New Orleans several weeks later. So I called Hugh, [HistoryMaker] Hugh Price, and told him what I was thinking: "Why don't you hold off doing the, doing the Urban League and you and I go together to Louisiana, Baton Rouge." We went and I explained to the governor why affirmative action is so important to me. I said there's one of our great entertainers, it was a man by the name of James Brown, he had some lyrics, one of his songs ['I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing'], open the door. And all I asked, in terms of how I define affirmative action, is to open the door. Once the door's open, you don't need to give me anything. I can compete with anybody, but what happens is that we don't even get a chance to open the door. And so if you don't open the door, I'm gonna fight you tooth and nail. And he listened, got him to modify his affirmative action edict enough for me to make the decision to go back in 1996. By the time I had decided to go back, word had gotten out that we were not coming back, we're not able to get the sponsors; I lost over a million dollars. And George Wein, who had been my partner decided that this was too onerous and so that's when I made another decision that Essence would do this on its own; and, and so the rest is really history.