Data Staff Writers
National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial will join influential voices including Michelle Obama and Congresswoman Maxine Waters in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the iconic event he brought to New Orleans.
“The Essence Festival helped solidify New Orleans as the quintessential destination for multicultural and African-American gatherings,” Morial said. “Bringing Essence to New Orleans remains among my proudest achievements as mayor, and I have been overwhelmed by the cultural significance it has attained.”
Just a few months into his first term as New Orleans Mayor, Morial was looking for ways to leverage his city’s rich cultural identity for economic development and job creation. At the same time, Essence co-founder Ed Lewis and Festival Productions founder George Wein were looking for the perfect location for a 25th birthday party for the magazine.
“As the leading African-American publication, they were looking for a city with a strong African-American cultural heritage and an African-American mayor,” Morial said. “No other city had – or has – such a strong musical tradition and the unique and versatile construction of the Superdome made it the perfect venue.”
What was meant to be a one-time event evolved into the largest annual multicultural event in the nation, the “party with a purpose,” attracting international recording artists, political and intellectual luminaries and bestselling authors. “The daytime events – the cultural, social and political presentations and discussions – were so popular that first year that they had to be moved from the Superdome into the Convention Center where there was more space,” Morial said.
Morial’s keynote that year focused on affirmative action, he recalled, as it was the year President Clinton launched his “mend it, don’t end it” initiative. “I was excited about it from the beginning,” Morial said. “It was big that first year, now it’s tremendous. It’s unique in that it combines thought leadership with music – no other event connects the performing arts with the social movements that influence and shape them.”
The first Essence Festival spawned the Louis Armstrong Jazz Camp, the nation’s pre-eminent jazz education program devoted to developing the next generation of Jazz artists and preserving the great American art form.
“There’s nothing else like the Essence Festival, and nowhere else like New Orleans,” Morial said. “The two are forever intertwined.”
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