In this post, we take a look at the iconic Christy Uduak Essien-Igbokwe including her songs, career in the entertainment industry, her philanthropy as well as her death.
In the entertainment industry, Essien-Igbokwe is known for her song, “Seun Rere” which is one of the reasons why she is sometimes called Nigeria’s Lady of Songs. She was also the first female president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN). She was also the managing director of the entertainment company, Soul Train Entertainment Limited.
Essien Igbokwe was born in Okat, Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria on the 11th of November 1960. Unfortunately, her mother died when she was barely 12 years.
She grew up in Aba, Abia State with her late mother’s friend and it was while in Aba that she honed her singing talents based on the encouragement from her guardian. At that time, she used a fairly used cassette player to record her songs.
Essien-Igbokwe was fluent in a variety of Nigerian languages and she sang songs in Igbo, Ibibio, Efik, Hausa, Yoruba as well as in English.
Her music career took off when she was in secondary school. She was known to sing at various clubs such as Uka Onu’s Club and Unikoko in Aba, Abia State. She also featured on a programme called ‘Now Sound’ on the Nigerian Television Authority Channel 6, Aba.
It was during this period that she began acting when she was said to have corrected a cast member who rehearsed his lines incorrectly. It was after this incident that she was offered a role in the series. She became popular as an actress in 1976 when she joined the cast of ‘The New Masquerade’ and played the role of Akpenor, the wife of the cantankerous character, Jegede Sokoya (played by Claude Eke).
Shortly after, she launched her professional music career when she released her debut album called ‘Freedom’. Her most successful album was ‘Ever Liked My Person’ produced by Lemmy Jackson.
Essien-Igbokwe was often at the centre of issues affecting women and children and this was seen in the roles she played as an actress. Some of these movies include ‘Flesh and Blood’ and ‘Scars of Womanhood.’ Both movies addressed issues of child abuse and female circumcision.
She was one of the foundational members of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) which she founded in 1981 alongside the likes of King Sunny Adé and Sonny Okosun. She was the national treasurer at a time and she also served as the first female president of the association between 1996 and 1999.
Essien-Igbokwe single-handedly pursued and executed many charity projects in the following States in Nigeria.
- In Adamawa State, she raised funds used by the State Government to fence, equip, renovate and provide drinkable water and main pump to the State’s only rehabilitation centre (at Jada) for the handicapped.
- In Rivers, she was involved in raising funds for the Catholic Children’s Home and Psychiatric School.
- In Enugu state, she fully equipped refectory for the School of the Blind, Deaf and Dumb, Ogbete, Enugu
- In Plateau State, she raised funds through Command Performances to provide a scholarship endowment fund for able-bodied and handicapped children of the State origin.
Her charity work also extends out of Nigeria.
- In Liberia, before the civil war, she visited the country and raised funds for the improvement of the only television organization (then) during President Samuel Doe’s tenure.
- In Ghana, she was also involved in raising funds to boost the tourism sector of the country.
Essien-Igbokwe got married in October 1979 to Chief Edwin Chukwunenye Igbokwe. At that time, he was the managing director of Punch Newspapers. Their marriage produced four male children namely Mr. Obiora Chukwuemeka Igbokwe, Mr. Chinwuba Kenechukwu Kaka Igbokwe, Mr. Solomon Chukwukadibia Olubunmi Igbokwe, and Mr. Lucky Samuel Azubueze Igbokwe. She also had grandchildren including Miss Elizabeth Uduak Igbokwe, Miss Christiana Chizaramekpeleamaka Ijeoma Igbokwe, and Master David Igbokwe
Essien-Igbokwe amassed several awards during the course of her lifetime, some of these include
- “Silver Prize” Winner at 6th Seoul Songs Festival, South Korea – 1983
- “Grand Prix “ Winner at Neewollah Music Festival at Independence, Kansas, USA – 1983
- “International Special Achievement” Award of Musexpo, Acapulco, Mexico, 1983
- “Certificate of Merit” Award for songwriting and composing at the 10th Annual American Songs Festival, Los Angeles, USA – 1983
- “Audience Favourite” Award of International Music Festival at Baker University, USA – 1983
- “Silver Prize” Winner at Second International Music Festival of Oklahoma University, USA – 1983
- “Outstanding Performance” Award at the World Song Festival, L.A. Arts Academy, USA – 1984
- “Distant Accord” Award at the FIDOF Festival in Hollywood, L.A., USA, 1990
- Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Business Management by Cornerstone University & Theological Seminary, Jerusalem, Israel – 2010
- Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Literature-in-Africa by University of Berkeley, Chicago, Illinois, USA – 2010
- “Lady of Songs” by Nigerian Entertainment Writers – 1980
- “Star Performer” Award of Nigerian Television Authority – 1983
- “Best Actress Runner-Up” Award for Excellence by silver Jubilee Committee of the Nigerian Television Authority – 1984
- “African Music Mother” Award by Music Extravaganza’84 in collaboration with African Music Development, New York, USA
- “Adaha Onna” (Pillar of Onna LGA)
- Akwa Ikwo Eket (The Greatest Singer from Eket Community) by Eket LGA Authority
- Aha Nwanyi Ejiagamba 1 of Oru Ahiazu, Mbaise, Imo State
- “Golden Voice of Africa” Award by music Students Association, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
- “Certificate of Honour” by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Anambra State Council – 1990
- “Certificate of Recognition” by National Film Festival – 1992
She also had several posthumous honours and awards. Some of which include:
- “Entertainment Icon” by West African Women in Leadership Conference (in Ghana) – 2011
- “Excellence in Outstanding Performance & Hard Work” by National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students (NAAKISS) – University of Lagos Chapter – 2011
She was honoured by Google on her 58th posthumous birthday with a Google doodle.
Essien-Igbokwe died in an undisclosed hospital after a brief illness in June 2011.