In the early 1990s, when Essence magazine went looking for a home for an annual music festival they would be sponsoring, their eye naturally fell on New Orleans. As the birthplace of jazz and one of the cradles of rock & roll, rhythm & blues, rap and other musical genres rooted in African American culture and tradition, what better place could there be for a large-scale musical event than the Crescent City.
Essence, the preeminent lifestyle magazine for African American women, made the decision to put their name on a festival of contemporary black music and culture, held annually at the Louisiana Superdome over the July 4 weekend. (In recent years Coca-Cola has also been a major sponsor of the event.) Between 1994, when it began, and 2005, the ESSENCE Festival was never held anywhere but in New Orleans – a flattering testimonial to the continued astounding success of the fest here. In 2006 it was forced to relocate to Houston because of repairs going on at the ‘Dome, but it returned in triumph to its prior successful level in New Orleans in 2007.
Over the years, ESSENCE Festival has been the highlight of New Orleans summer music scene, and one of the city’s top five annual drawing cards. Many of the top-sellers in the African American – and crossover – music scene have been drawn to the fest like moths to a flame. It has become a “must” for stars making the rounds on the touring circuit. Entertainers who have made the scene here include Beyoncé, Prince, Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Jeffrey Osborne, the Dells, Peabo Bryson, Lionel Richie, Cedric the Entertainer and many more. Frankie Beverly and Maze can be counted on every year to close out the final night of this three-day event at the Superdome.
ESSENCE Festival also gives African American artists, writers, craftsmen, culinary artists, businesspeople and others a chance to show and sell their wares. Streets in the Central Business District temporarily become outdoor markets, with booths featuring art, books, food, business, educational information and more. Also, at the Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Convention Center, the ESSENCE Marketplace features a distinctive exhibit of quality fine art and fine crafts reflective of the rich cultural heritage developed throughout the African Diaspora. This includes decorative, functional, wearable and collectible art items such as clothing, jewelry, paintings, sculpture, dolls, beadwork, quilts, clay/ceramics, metal art, and much more – plus artist demonstrations.
Inspirational and business-related seminars, aimed at empowering African American men and women, are also held concurrent with the festival. Top names in the African American business and spiritual communities are frequently enlisted to present at these seminars.
Some hotels offer special deals for fest-goers. For more information about ESSENCE Festival go to www.essence.com.