Meet the Powerhouse Exec Behind ESSENCE Music Festival’s Empowerment Experience

Gina Charbonnet via BlackEnterprise
By Mwabi Kaira

Within the minutes of talking to Gina Charbonnet, her love for New Orleans is apparent. Sure it’s home but her love goes beyond that; Gina is committed to showing the world New Orleans' rich culture, contributing to its economy, encouraging young people to create businesses and continuing the cultural traditions important to the city. Gina is an industry veteran and the woman behind GeChar Inc., the New Orleans booking agency, event marketing, and production company that provides turn key services for major events happening in the city, including the upcoming Essence Music Festival Empowerment Experience, which features conversations from influential leaders, artists and innovators ranging from media to politics. I caught up with Gina days before the festival, (July 5-8), to chat with her about how she makes the magic happen.

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Photo: Charbonnetfuneralhome.com
What is your background and how did you get started?
I was born and raised in New Orleans and my family is in the funeral business. Charbonnet Labat Funeral Home has been deeply rooted in Treme since 1883 and is a New Orleans staple. Funerals in New Orleans are vibrant, they celebrate and rejoice life. My family has been involved in Mardi Gras over the years and anchors and supports the community. We have an event hall that is always in use. My interest in arts and culture comes from my rich family background and I’m so proud to be a part of it.

Did you work in the family business?
I did for a few years in college but I was mainly a gofer running around and getting things that everyone needed. I never felt pressure to join the family business because my first love was always visual arts. I always wanted to create my own lane and when my mother was 45 years old she started her own clothing design business which impressed upon me the idea of honoring your dream. My mother showed me that it could be done and I spent my 20’s and 30’s figuring out how to harness my creativity into a business.

Director Kasi Lemmons 
What was that process like; and how did you eventually get GeChar Inc. started?
I got my BA in Journalism and a minor in Film Production. I started out working in film production and worked on Eve’s Bayou. Seeing director Kasi Lemmons work inspired me and gave me the spark to know a woman could be a boss in the entertainment industry. When I started working for Festival Production Inc. as a production assistant in the late 90’s putting on Jazz Festivals, I finally saw that what I wanted to do in entertainment could be done. In 1999 GeChar Inc. was born and I haven’t looked back since.

How did working with the Essence Festival come about?
I had the opportunity to work closely with Susan Taylor and that led to me working with the Essence Festival. My company worked seasonally with the festival until 2007 when GeChar Inc. became executive producers for the Empowerment Experience. We have been working with Essence since then and gearing up for this year’s festival in a few days.

What exactly does the job entail?
We do everything from booking talent, talent relations, negotiations, dressing rooms, VIP, create rehearsal schedules, provide ushers, logistic details and everything you can think of that goes on behind the scenes and of course we work on developing empowerment stage themes and the production of the show. I am committed to consciously moving the crowd and I want the entertainers we work with to leave the event with a charge and know the power of their voice and to use it.

What are you most excited about this year at the festival?
Excited most about the Lena Waithe Keynote Conversation on Friday, July 6.
What else are you working on and what do you have planned for the future?
I’m working on a TV script about New Orleans. I enjoyed the HBO show Treme and it represented New Orleans well, as does Queen Sugar. I am working on a script that will continue to show my city on the small screen in a positive light. I have a book planned as well.

Gina Charbonnet 
What is New Orleans looking like over a decade after Hurricane Katrina and what do you see for New Orleans' future?
It’s an exciting time to be in New Orleans. It is a fertile ground for start-up companies. Mayor LaToya Cantrell is investing in black women more and more since she has recently taken office. I love my city and it’s future is very bright. I’m so proud to contribute to New Orleans and will continue to do so.

Have you attended an Essence fest empowerment seminar? Are you going to Essence festival this year?
Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her athttp://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com

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