By Renetta Burrell Perry
The epic and now historic Essence Music Festival is 25 years old, and it’s safe to say that it’s all grown-up and it’s so New Orleans! When then-Mayor Marc H. Morial helped seal the deal to bring the then intended one-time celebration to the city, he couldn’t have imagined it would evolve into a 25-year-long courtship between the City of New Orleans and Essence, separated only once by an act of nature we know as Hurricane Katrina. And throughout its evolution, the Festival has faithfully lived up to its original Mission Statement which was to emerge as more than just a party (which we are fully able to execute here), but as a “Party with a Purpose.” More than a Festival, Essence Fest is an experience so deeply engrained into the new Black existence and lexicon that it has been enshrined with its own movie, “Girls Trip” depicting the endearment it has formed amongst Black women.
But aside from being a cultural phenomenon, the party and purpose-driven event has garnered massive financial dividends – millions upon millions of dollars are spent over the course of the three-day 4th of July weekend – and yearly boasts a staggering list of Black America’s who’s who in music, fashion, sports, arts, cuisine and more. It is America’s largest gathering of African American women bringing some 500,000+ visitors directly into the downtown district of the City of New Orleans and literally bringing the iconic fashion sense and melanin-infused beauty of the Essence Magazine’s pages to life. National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial said of the Festival’s inauguration, “As the leading African-American Publication, they were looking for a city with a strong African American cultural heritage and an African American Mayor. No other city had – or has – such a strong musical tradition and the unique versatile construction of the Superdome made it the perfect venue.
“The Essence Festival helped solidify New Orleans as the quintessential destination for multicultural and African American gatherings,” he says. As he recalls his efforts to bring the event to the city he continues, “Bringing Essence to New Orleans remains my proudest achievement as mayor, and I have been overwhelmed by the cultural significance it has attained.”
Local Impact – Global Appeal
The Essence Music Festival is the premier event of the summer in New Orleans and its impact can be felt throughout the economy in many diverse and unique ways. While seminars aim at educating, informing, improving lifestyles and uplifting spirits, the charitable contributions from big named sponsors and from Essence have helped create unparalleled opportunities for local non-profit agencies and private citizens, minority businesses and other entities.
Essence says its aim is to “serve the unmet needs of Black women across the globe and bring the pages of the magazine and online content to life as never before across arts, entertainment, music, beauty, fashion, technology, film, food, wellness, advocacy, entrepreneurship and economic empowerment.” While local and national artists are in the limelight, international musicians, artists and cuisine all share in the multicultural event. “For 25 years, the ESSENCE Festival has embodied the power and purpose of our culture – bringing a total of more than $4 billion in economic impact to the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana and most importantly, serving as a sacred ground for millions of Black women to engage each other in community, sisterhood, service, family, love, laughter, joy, hope and empowerment,” said Michelle Ebanks, CEO of ESSENCE Communications.
The focus early-on was to use the Festival to position African American issues in the forefront of the seminar component of the Festival. Twenty-five years ago, Morial brought in keynote speaker President Bill Clinton who launched his “mend it, don’t end it” Initiative focusing on affirmative action. The 2019 Festival will focus politically on the 2020 Presidential Election with five Presidential Spotlight Segments taking place Saturday, July 6th and Sunday, July 7th on the ESSENCE Power Stage at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kamala Harris, Former Representative Beto O’Rourke and Senator Elizabeth Warren will be the focus of conversations and question-and-answer sessions moderated by Rev. Al Sharpton. “As we look towards the 2020 Presidential Election, the importance of Black women and their decisive role in the pathway to victory is undeniable,” said Ebanks.
The 25th Anniversary Party will spare no details as it brings over 80 performers to the Superdome, including: Mary J. Blige, Nas, Missy Elliot, H.E.R., Big Freedia, Davido, Frankie Beverly, Jermaine Dupri, MC Lyte, Pharrell Williams, Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike (RBRM), Sheila E., Teddy Riley, Teyana Taylor, Timbaland and more. In addition, a 25th Anniversary Celebration of 1994’s most culturally impactful and transformative albums that redefined pop culture will be curated and performed by the original artists. These will include Mary J. Blige’s “My Life,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Brandy’s “Brandy,” Method Man’s “Tical,” Scarface’s “Diary,” Big Daddy Kane’s “Daddy’s Home,” Da Brat’s “Funkdafied,” Slick Rick’s “Behind Bars” and Brownstone’s “From the Bottom Up.”
The 25th Anniversary will also span more than 10 venues across New Orleans and encamps several new and enhanced, curated experiences, including: The Global Black Economic Forum, Fashion House, Wellness House, ESSENCE Black Excellence Awards, ESSENCE Food & Wine Festival, Beauty Carnival, ESSENCE Film & TV Festival, Power Stage, Day of Service/Girls United, and more.
For more information on tickets and events surrounding the Festival, log onto www.essence.com