She began her musical career in Secondary School, singing at various clubs in Aba. She later landed a gig with NTA Aba on a programme called “Now Sound'. It was during the shooting of one of the episodes for this show that she noticed a cast member (for another show “New Masquerade”) rehearsing his lines incorrectly, so she volunteered to assist him there-by landing her a role in the series.
She became quite popular as she played the role of “Apena” the wife of the cantankerous character Chief Jegede Shokoya (played by Claude Eke who passed away in 2002) in the sensational situational comedy “The New Masquerade” .The role shot the young actress to stardom.
The singer and actress released her debut album “Freedom” in 1976 at age 16 and married Edwin Igbokwe three years later. She followed up with other albums; “Patience”, “Time Waits for No One” (both 1978), “One Understanding” (1979), “Give Me A Chance” (1980). However her 1981 hit album, “Ever Liked My Person” which features the hit single “Omo Mi Se Ohun Rere” remains her best LP till date. Released under London-based label, Lagos International Records, which was more inclined towards promoting Nigerian pop music in Europe and America, “Ever Liked My Person” featured production from one of Nigeria's top producers, Lemmy Jackson, who was touted as Nigeria's Quincy Jones.
Although she is not Yoruba, most of her hits were sung in the western Nigerian language, and drew heavily on the culture and tradition. Essien's fluency in Yoruba, English, Igbo and her native Ibibio earned her an appeal which cut across tribal lines.
As one of Nigeria's finest and foremost female pop vocalists, her roll call of honors include Africa Music Mother Award (1984), World Song Festival Award 1996. She is also the first female president of the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria ‘PMAN” The Akwa-Ibom born performer also had the honor of composing and performing what would later be known as her state's anthem of sorts, "Akwa-Ibom mi” (My Akwa-Ibom) in 1987, its year of creation.
Here is a collection of her hit tracks, Enjoy!