School or Affiliation: Tufts
Medford, MA


In the early 1990s, a group of talented women saw a void in the Tufts vocal scene. As Black women, they felt that they, and the music they enjoyed singing, was absent. So, in an attempt to remedy this, and because of their general love of song, they came together to form a group called Spice. Spice sang together for a few years before becoming Essence in 1994.

        Over the years, the character of Essence has changed many times. In the past there was sometimes a band or musicians accompanying the group. But in the fall of 1998, lead by then music directors Aisha Barbour (E'00) and Dionna Avery (E'01), Essence experimented with being all a cappella. In the spring the band returned but some members had a sense that the most powerful thing about Essence was the voices. Therefore in the fall of 1999 we became totally a cappella again. Starting out at the beginning of the semester, it was quite difficult because the arragements were so different from the style that most of us were used to singing. But, visionary music directors Aisha Barbour (E'00) and Rachel Walker (E'00) soon became skilled and were able to arrange in a more traditionally a cappella style (with sung backgrounds) while still staying true to the style of music to which Essence is committed. This format works well for the group. It continues each year with new innovation and creativity.

        Not only has Essence been through a musical make-over, some also see a shift in the purpose of the group. When it was first founded, Essence was intended, or perceived to be, only for women of color. But now we are proud to be one of the most diverse incarnations of Essence ever. The thing that will always link together every member of Essence, past and present, is our love of the music of the African Diaspora. We will always keep this meaning in our hearts out of respect for the founders of Essence


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