Shawn Johnson and Michelle Ebanks pose with 2013 Lincoln MKS

Shawn Thompson and Michelle Ebanks pose with 2013 Lincoln MKZ

*True to the publication’s overall mission, each year around this time ESSENCE magazine leans on the hype surrounding GRAMMY week to honor black women who are doing big things in the music industry.  In years past, they recognized luminaries such as Janelle Monet, Kelly Rowland and Sylvia Rhone for their outstanding contributions to the field and, this year, they teamed up with Lincoln as the presenting sponsor to honor two equally deserved but decidedly unsung talented black women in music: Solange Knowles and Lianne La Havana.

The recently formed “Lincoln Motor Company” found the perfect fit in supporting the event as both Solange and Lianne are considered bold and cutting edge in the industry, which aligns with the spirit behind Lincoln’s new design initiatives.  The 2013 MKZ, which was prominently featured on the event’s red carpet, pays homage to the classic detailing of what made the brand a stand out in the past, but incorporates design upgrades that move it away from being “your granddaddy’s Lincoln” and “just a taxi or fleet vehicle” of more recent years, according to Shawn Thompson, the power broker sister who heads up the company’s Multicultural Marketing and Communications department.

The 4th annual installment of the event, held at the swanky Greystone Manor in West Hollywood, and hosted by the magazine’s editor at large, Emil Wilbekin and a guest, due to Kelly Rowland calling in sick, drew some of the most recognizable names in both black music and Black Hollywood, from Jill Scott and Estelle to NeNe Leakes and Amber Riley, all in support of the enduring ESSENCE brand and the unique artistry of Knowles and La Havas.  Both artists performed in lieu of acceptance speeches, giving the invite-only guests a live taste of just why they were honored.

About the Honorees

The name “Solange Knowles” is not necessarily a household one, but there’s no doubt that it has been heard or spoken at least once by most. One reason – the obvious reason – is because she’s the sister of music royalty, Beyonce Knowles.  But that’s both a blessing and a curse.  When you and other siblings are endowed with similar gifts, the shadow is likely to be cast one or more branches of the tree.  We’ve seen it all too many times: you have MICHAEL and JANET, then you have the rest; you have TONI Braxton, then you have the rest; you have EL DeBarge, then you have the rest…  It’s natural law.  But while we have the spotlights permanently positioned on those such as the aforementioned family superstars, we sometimes sleep on the otherwise solid offerings of those in the shadows.  Ever since Beyonce sang her way to the front of Destiny’s Child and made for herself a solo career that most singers can only dream of, Solange has been in her shadow – and regularly being made painfully aware of it – singing, writing, producing, acting and  DJing her heart out, trying to share her under-appreciated gifts with the world.  While “King Bey” found her niche delivering culture-shifting pop hits that have earned her a spot at the top of the music industry heap, Solange has been grinding it out underground, virtually carving out her own genre of what I call “retro-relevant” R&B.   If you take a listen to her body of work, most significantly Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, you’ll find that it’s refreshingly different from most of today’s R&B offerings and deserved of a hand clap or two, including her current song, “Losing You.”  Alongside the releases with her as the lead singer, she’s also written and produced hits such as “Upgrade U” and “Get Me Bodied”  for Beyonce,  and songs for Kelly Rowland’s DC’s albums.  Her desire to express her profound love for music also led her to taking to the turntables to spin her way into the hearts of fellow music lovers as a not-so-common female DJ.  Those endeavors, her dibbles and dabbles in acting and voice over work, and a unique and daring style and fashion sense have kept her name afloat in the industry, making her worthy of the “Black Women in Music” honor.  When you have a spotlight hogging sibling like Beyonce to contend with and still manage to keep yourself in the public eye, you are doing something right.

4th Annual ESSENCE Black Women in Music - Arrivals

Jill Scott stole the thunder of many forthcoming artists of her caliber by entitling her first release “Who Is Jill Scott?”  That title speaks to her unknown status, but also in boldness assumes that people would want to know who she is based on her perception of her talent. Turns out, we absolutely did.  As it was with Jill, every now and then a new artist bursts onto the scene, casting off obscurity to dramatically impact the landscape of music.  Enter Lianne La Havas.  At this early stage, if you’re not a purist, you may be asking “who is … ?”  But with huge endorsements by legends such as Prince and Stevie Wonder, you’ll soon be made aware of just who the London-born singer and musician is.  She’s good to look at, her demeanor is demure and warm and her artistry is pure and evocative.  To hear her recorded music (Is Your Love Big Enough is her debut release) is interest piquing enough, but to experience her live is to see her truly shine.  She has the ability to melodically relate her experiences with relationships, wielding only her voice and her guitar,  in a way that make more vivid your own experiences.  La Havas is a relative newcomer, but ESSENCE was right in honoring one with the ability to contribute to pushing music forward and whose committed to relying upon her unadulterated gifts and experiences in giving us something mind stimulating to snap our fingers to.

4th Annual ESSENCE Black Women in Music - Arrivals

Congrats to both the ladies – and Lincoln for the striking new MKZ.