Essence Festival takes over New Orleans for Fourth of July weekend for 25th year

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EBR Mayor-President featured in Black Women Mayors’ Roundtable conversation; Festival officially changes name

Mary J. Blige

FILE – In this July 7, 2018 file photo, Mary J. Blige performs at the 2018 Essence Festival at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Blige will take part in the Essence Festival, marking 25 years of celebrating black excellence in business, fashion, entertainment and music. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File)

The Essence Festival just celebrated its 25th year in New Orleans by changing its official name, with more than half a million attendees 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.

“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.”

Some memorable live content platforms and experiences returned reimagined, 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.  The festival also featured new, stand-alone consumer experiences including the Essence Global Black Economic Forum, Fashion House, Wellness House, After Dark series, Passport25 and many other experiences and speaker segments.  

Among those segments, Sharon Weston-Broome, Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge Parish, participated in a 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. The discussion was a part of the Essence x Policy Link initiative, a partnership PolicyLink created to highlight Black female leaders across the country.  

Sharon Weston Broome, Mayor-President of East Baton Rouge parish, discusses her work during the 2019 Essence Festival’s ‘Black Women Mayors’ Roundtable’. Photo: ESSENCE.COM

One of the issues Broome took up was diversity in the city’s contracts.  Broome talked about the state’s infrastructure project, saying she wanted to be very intentional with her leadership in terms of opening up opportunities for contracts to minorities in Baton Rouge.  

“When I was elected, there was an outcry from many of our citizens who look like we do, who said ‘Mayor, we haven’t had an opportunity to get to the table.  We haven’t had the opportunities for contracts’.” Broome felt the need to take the initiative.  

Broome said the two program management teams hired for the project demonstrated equity and inclusion in building a team that “looks like the diverse city that Baton Rouge represents.”

Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks to the media after speaking to festival goers at the 25th Essence Festival about his plans and platform.

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 appeal to Black women by discussing their platforms and policies with festival-goers. 

Performing and speaking over the Essence Festival weekend–over 100 artists, including some of the biggest names in the entertainment, and over 300 influencers, leaders, creators, and celebrities across the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.  Here are some of the highlights:

Friday night:

Missy Elliot, a multi-faceted musician, performs Friday, July 5, 2019 at the 25th Essence Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana.

P.J. Morton, a solo musician from New Orleans who also serves as a member of Maroon 5, recorded his Grammy-nominated album ‘Gumbo’ live with BJ the Chicago Kid, JoJo, Luke James, Mia X, Pell, and The Hamiltones.  Brandy, Ledisi and MC Lyte were among the artists to open the weekend on the main stage. Missy Elliot was the last to perform in her classic style.

Saturday Night:

Former First Lady Michelle Obama speaks with Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning and news anchor Saturday, July 6, 2019 at the 25th Essence Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana.

R&B sensations 702, Brownstone, and Queen Naija performed in the Super Lounges, smaller concerts happening simultaneously along the main concert.  H.E.R. opened the night on the main stage, followed by an epic performance by hip-hop legend Nas. Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning and news anchor, interviewed Former First Lady Michelle Obama live on stage in a sold-out Superdome on Saturday, July 7. This was the former first lady’s first Essence Festival headline appearance.  Closing the show was the legendary Mary J. Blige, who brought out Lil’ Kim to perform ‘I can love you’, and is somewhat of an Essence Festive resident.

Sunday Night:

Pharrell Williams, one of Hip-Hop’s biggest super producers, performs Sunday, July 7, 2019 at the 25th Essence Festival in New Orleans, Louisiana.

First, Essence featured a Gospel celebration with Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary, Tasha Cobbs Leonard and Yolanda Adams Sunday 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.

Jermaine Dupri gave all of the Millenials a throwback treat with rap artists Da Brat, Dem Franchise Boyz, Lil Jon and Crime Mob–infamously known for the cult hit “Knuck if you Buck”. After Teddy Riley’s set, properly titled “The Legends of Music”, that featured singers Major, Ro James, Teyana Taylor; and super producers 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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