Christiana Uduak Essien-Igbokwe (known as Christy Essien-Igbokwe) was born on November 11th, 1960 in Okat, Onna Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. During her heyday she was the grand dame of Nigerian pop music, and nicknamed the ‘First Lady of Song’.
Christy lost her mother when she was just 12 after which she moved to Aba, Abia state to stay with her late mother’s friend. Discovering her talent, her mother’s friend urged her to pursue a career in music.
Christy began her musical career in Secondary School singing at various clubs. In 1976 she joined the satirical NTA series Masquerade. Her short role in that popular sitcom put her to the limelight and in 1977 she launched a professional music career, aged 17. Many of her albums became hit records, but none came close to the success of her 1981 hit album ‘Ever Liked My Person’ produced by Lemmy Jackson. Some of her albums include; Freedom, Patience, Time waits for no one, One Understanding, Give me a chance, Ever liked my person, It’s Time, Taking my time, Hear the call, Mysteries of Life, amongst others.
Always at the forefront of issues affecting women and children, she played remarkable roles in some of the early Nollywood flicks such as Flesh and Blood and Scars of Womanhood, both of which addressed issues of child abuse and female circumcision. With a desire to make life better for Nigerian artists, she is credited as having initiated the first meeting that brought about the formation of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria, PMAN in 1981.
A year later, PMAN was founded and King Sunny Ade became the president with the late Sonny Okosuns as his vice, while she was the National Treasurer. In 1994 when PMAN was passing through one of its most trying periods, the elders of the union became afraid that the union may break up and so decided to approach Igbokwe, who was a founding member of the association in the first place. Between 1996 and 1999, she became the first female PMAN president.
Igbokwe, known for her artistic prowess on stage, charisma and dedication to her music, was truly living a spotless life until the late General Sani Abacha’s desire to sit tight in office and subsequent organisation of a one million man-march in support, by Daniel Kanu, tricked her and her entourage to Abuja. As PMAN President, she was hugely criticised for leading a few other musicians to the two million-man march organised in Abuja for the ‘Abacha must stay in office’ campaign. After the incident, the controversies which trailed it, perhaps, prompted her decision to leave office and went into private business. This scandal became one of the few regrets of her life, not necessarily because she deliberately participated in the show of shame, but because she was grossly mistaken and generally condemned despite her explanations.
One of the controversies that the Lady of Songs tried to clear her name from while alive, was the allegation by Charley Boy that she embezzled money while in office. According to her, it was the wives of Jeremiah Useni, Abacha and Babangida that saved her world from collapse at the time.
Christy was also involved in a host of charity programmes such as How a Little Bit of Kindness, Do You Hear Me Children?, Seun Rere, Hear the Call and Onwegh Ihe Ka Nnwa Na Uwa (Nothing is greater than child). Her projects covered states across Nigeria including Rivers, Enugu, Adamawa and outside the country in places like Ghana and Liberia.
The icon was married to Chief Edwin Igbokwe with whom she had children including Kaka, with whom she performed with at the Inspire Africa Benefit Concert in January 2009. She died on June 30th, 2011 after battling gastro-intestinal disorder and was buried on September 10th, 2011. Her husband has since re-married.
Essien-Igbokwe received a host of awards both in and outside Nigeria. Even after her death, posthumous awards keep pouring in.
Awards in Nigeria include;
o “Lady of Songs” by Nigerian Entertainment Writers – 1980
o “Star Performer” Award of Nigerian Television Authority – 1983
o “Best Actress Runner-Up” Award for Excellence by silver Jubilee Committee of the Nigerian Television Authority – 1984
o “African Music Mother” Award by Music Extravaganza’84 in collaboration with African Music Development, New York, USA
o “Adaha Onna” (Pillar of Onna LGA)
o Akwa Ikwo Eket (The Greatest Singer from Eket Community) by Eket LGA Authority
o Aha Nwanyi Ejiagamba 1 of Oru Ahiazu, Mbaise, Imo State
o “Golden Voice of Africa” Award by music Students Association, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife
o “Gold Award” of 25 Nigerian Celebrities – 1988
o “Certificate of Honour” by the Nigerian Union of Journalists, Anambra State Council – 1990
o “Certificate of Recognition” by National Film Festival – 1992
o “Service to the Music Profession” Award by Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria on platform of Nigerian Music Award (to Christy Essien Igbokwe/Edwin Igbokwe) for their efforts in it formation and creation – 1988
o Special Musical Patents Decoration Award – 1994
o “Merit Award for Excellence in the Field of Music Therapy” by Medical Association of Nigeria
o “Award of Honour” by Nigeria Institute of Journalism Student’s Union, Ibadan Campus
o “Certificate of Honour” in recognition of her role as a woman of substance and her excellent performance in musical entertainment by National Association of Akwa Ibom Students, University of Ibadan chapter.
o “Grand Fellow of Nigerian Youths” by the Nigerian Youth Organization
o “Queen of Music International” Award by the Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners, Lagos State and Degbola International Promotions – 1996
o “Outstanding Achievements Uplifting Female” Award by Youth Re-Orientation Movement – 1996
o “Merit Award in Honour of Care for the Nigerian Child” by Broadway International School – 2000
o “Award of Excellence and Outstanding Leadership Qualities” as the first female president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria – 1998
o “The Best Dressed Female Musician” Award in the Patriotic Dress category at the Nigeria Fashion Show – 1997
o “Member of the Greatest Performers” Award in recognition of her immense contribution to the development and reformation of the world youths – 1996
o “Award of Excellence” as Matron of the Great Eni-Njoku Hall (University of Lagos chapter – 2000
o “Pacesetter Award” in recognition of her vision, initiator and organizer of the First ECOWAS Cultural and Musical Festival & the Entertainment Award – 1997
o “Lover of Children” Award in recognition of her contribution towards child social and welfare development in the society – by legendary Page Boys Club (Socio-Cultural & Humanitarian Club)
o “Member of the Order of the Federal Republic by Federal Government of Nigeria – 1999
o “Defender of Children” Award by Interclassic Youth Forum (a non-governmental organization)
o “Outstanding Achievement in Entertainment Industry” Award by Top Celebrities Magazine -2010
o “Merit Award for African Heritage” by The Gong African News Magazine – 2010
o “Honorary Fellowship Award” by Institute of Corporate & Business Affairs Management, Nigeria.
o “Nigerian Woman of Valor” Award by National Centre for Women Development, Abuja – 2010.
o Silver Prize” Winner at 6th Seoul Songs Festival, South Korea – 1983
o “Grand Prix “ Winner at Neewollah Music Festival at Independence, Kansas, USA – 1983
o “International Special Achievement” Award of Musexpo, Acapulco, Mexico, 1983
o “Certificate of Merit” Award for songwriting and composing at the 10th Annual American Songs Festival, Los Angeles, USA – 1983
o “Audience Favourite” Award of International Music Festival at Baker University, USA – 1983
o “Silver Prize” Winner at Second International Music Festival of Oklahoma University, USA – 1983
o “Outstanding Performance” Award at the World Song Festival, L.A. Arts Academy, USA – 1984
o “Distant Accord” Award at the FIDOF Festival in Hollywood, L.A., USA, 1990
o Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Business Management by Cornerstone University & Theological Seminary, Jerusalem, Israel – 2010
o Honorary Doctorate Degree (Honoris Causa) Award in Literature-in-Africa by University of Berkeley, Chicago, Illinois, USA – 2010
o “Entertainment Icon” by West African Women in Leadership Conference (in Ghana) – 2011
o “Excellence in Outstanding Performance & Hard Work” by National Association of Akwa Ibom State Students (NAAKISS) – University of Lagos Chapter – 2011
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