25th Essence Fest: Silver Super Dome Weekend

All the sights, sounds, and culture all in the Big Easy

More than half a million festival attendees turned up at the Essence Festival to celebrate its 25th year in New Orleans Fourth of July weekend.

“The 25th anniversary Essence Festival represented a truly transformative global homecoming celebration for Black women and the  Black community,” Michelle Ebanks, Essence’s CEO, said.

One of the biggest changes to come–an official name change that will celebrate the essence of blackness.

“In honor of us embodying all that Black excellence and culture represent – beyond entertainment and beauty, we were thrilled to reveal the Festival’s official rebrand to the ‘ESSENCE Festival of Culture,’ with a mission to inform, inspire and uplift Black women and provide a holistic approach to how we offer and deliver Black culture in every way.”

Essence brought back memorable live content platforms and experiences. Some, such as the Beauty Carnival that included multiple different hair brands offering product samples, product and curl pattern consultations, and live tutorials, the business & career summit E-Suite and Essence Honors, returned reimagined. Essence also introduced new, stand-alone consumer experiences including the first-ever Essence Global Black Economic Forum, the Essence Fashion House, Wellness House, After Dark series, Passport25, as well as many other experiences and speaker segments.  

Among those segments, a mayoral discussion that was a part of the Essence x Policy Link initiative, which is a partnership PolicyLink created to highlight Black female leaders across the country.  Sharon Weston-Broome, Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, participated in this candid round table titled “Black Women Mayors’ Roundtable”, along with other female mayors of color about the work they’re doing in their respective cities. 

Festival goers caught up with a few of the Presidential candidates for 2020. Beto O’ Rourke; Mayor Pete Buttigege of South Bend, Indiana; Senator Kamala Harris of California; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado; and Mayor Bill deBlasio of New York, took to the Power Stage plead their platforms to Black women by discussing their platforms and policies. 

Sen. Corey Booker/Ten20 Magazine

Performing over the Essence Festival weekend–more than 100 artists, including some of the biggest names in the entertainment across the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.  

P.J. Morton/Ten20 Magazine

Friday night:

P.J. Morton, a solo musician from New Orleans who also serves as a member of Maroon 5, recorded his Grammy-nominated album ‘Gumbo’ in the ‘Playlist’ Superlounge, performing live with BJ the Chicago Kid, JoJo, Luke James, Mia X, Pell, and The Hamiltones.  Among the artists to open the weekend on the main stage were Brandy, Ledisi and MC Lyte. Festival goers also got the first preview of the new Essence After Dark preview with international Soca and Afro-Beat artist Machel Montano; and reggae stars Shaggy and Spice, presented by the singer known world-wide as Estelle.  RBRM hit the stage with a performance as epic as their career, and closing–Missy Elliot! Missy lit the stage up in colorful outfits with her riveting music videos playing in the background, the last artist to perform in her classic style. One of the highlights of her performance was “Pass That Dutch,” where she pointed out “when do you ever see Black people dutch dancing?!”  The choreography was, as always, intricate and mesmerizing.  

Saturday Night:

R&B sensations 702, Brownstone, and Queen Naija performed in the Super Lounges, smaller concerts happening simultaneously along the main concert. The neo-soul crooner, Musiq Souldchild, opened the night on the main stage, followed by epic performances by songstress H.E.R. and hip-hop legend Nas. Enticing the sold-out Superdome: Mrs. Michelle Obama and Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning and news anchor, interviewed Obama live on stage. This was the former first lady’s first Essence Festival headline appearance. Closing the show was the legendary auntie Mary J. Blige, who brought out Lil’ Kim to perform ‘I can love you’, and is somewhat of an Essence Festive resident.

Sunday Night:

Frankie Beverly/Ten20 Magazine

First, Essence featured a Gospel celebration with Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary, Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Yoland Adams that morning.  Winding down into the night, festival goers got to see Miami-based rappers City Girls, South Durban comedian Celeste Ntuli, New Orleans bred artists Dawn–formerly of music mogul Puff Daddy’s Danity Kane and Dirty Money groups–and Lucky Daye, along with others in the Super Lounges. Later that night, Essence honored Marc Morial and Rev. Al Sharpton. Morial served two terms as the mayor of New Orleans and is the current president of the National Urban League. After Teddy Riley’s set, properly titled “The Legends of Music”, that featured singers Major, Ro James, Teyana Taylor; and superproducers Pharrell Williams and Timbaland, festival goers got what they dressed in their all-white clothes for. Anthony Hamilton performed a dedication to Frankie Beverly, who was presented with the key to the city of New Orleans before Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly tore the house down for the final night of the festival.

In addition to all of the different festivities, the Essence Festival debuted the Global Black Economic Forum, connecting attendees with accomplished leaders and chief executives including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, Chase Consumer Banking CEO Thasunda Duckett, Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey, and TDJ Enterprises CEO TD Jakes, among others.

“This year’s extraordinary turnout reflects Essence’s uniquely powerful engagement of Black women around personal empowerment, community, and culture as only Essence  can. With the debut of 10 new Festival experiences, activations at more than 40 venues across New Orleans, and engagement with more than 300 small businesses and local vendors, we have redefined the Festival as the largest and most impactful destination at the epicenter of Black culture,” Ebanks continued.

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