Essence celebrated its annual music festival last weekend in New Orleans with a star-studded line up and events for all to enjoy.

In traditional Essence fashion, the nightly concerts, hosted by emcee Nephew Tommy of “The Steve Harvey Morning Show,” consisted of a mixture of “old school” and “new school.”

Kicking off the first night of performances in the Louisiana Superdome was the nineties legendary group Boys II Men.

During the tough first slot position on Friday night, when many attendees are slowly trickling in an echoey dome, the group dominated the stage, rocking out to hits like “Motownphilly.”

Following Boys II Men was third season “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino. Belting out hits from both Prince and Bob Marley, the R&B singer captivated the crowd, letting loose in a style completely her own, as she came completely out her shoes by the end of the set.

Not nearly as energetic and showing off a newly trim figure, Jennifer Hudson next appeared on the stage, rocking a black, slinky, knee-length cocktail dress.

Bringing the crowd to new levels, Charlie Wilson served up his unique blend of old and new school hits. Changing into a sparkling teal suit, accented by a pink shirt, Wilson lit up the stage and dome when he asked the audience to wave their cell phones.

Closing out the first night was R&B superstar Usher. In an elaborate and dazzling performance, the singer portrayed a futuristic vibe as he delivered impressive dance moves and hits like “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love Again” and “OMG.” The R&B star also performed a brief tribute to Michael Jackson that ended in a stunning moonwalk across the stage.

Saturday night’s show included stellar performances by El Debarge and legend Chaka Khan.

Jill Scott, an Essence regular, radiated confidence and glamour in an outfit and hair-do reminiscent of a 1940’s jazz singer. As Scott performed hits from her new album, the crowd got a surprise as Anthony Hamilton joined the star on stage for the hit “So in Love.”

Ending the night’s performances was hip-hop star Kanye West, who spared no restraint as he went all out for his third appearance at the festival. The rapper rocked the crowd with his earlier hits like “Good Life” and “Gold Digger,” as extravagant dancers and a stunning set design perfectly balanced the performances. In a heartfelt tribute to his deceased mother, West performed “Hey Mama” as his set concluded.

Once again on the festival’s final night, Trey Songz performed his sensual hits, captivating the ladies in the audience. At one point, the young R&B star stripped off his black muscle shirt, baring his chiseled chest and performing slow ballads like “Love Faces.”

Following Songz was the newly reunited New Edition. The group members’ precise dance moves and harmonious vocals entertained the audience as they sang legendary hits, including “Home Again.”

Closing out this year’s festival was R&B queen Mary J. Blige. Powerfully belting out her hits, Blige connected to the audience as she performed a long list of hits. The audience sang along with the singer as she threw herself into songs like “No More Drama” and “Not Gon’ Cry.” By the time Blige ended her set with “Just Fine”, the audience was on its feet dancing right along with the star.

While a large portion of the festival is all about the music, the Essence experience also provides a variety of powerful empowerment seminars and informational sessions that deal with real life issues in the Black community.

This year’s seminars were held in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and consisted of panel discussions on transforming the mind, body and spirit. The discussions also dealt with the importance of transforming and impacting the Black community.

Included in the panel discussions were Keisha Knight Pulliam, Soledad O’Brien, Rev. Al Sharpton and Steve Harvey.

The daily seminars also included live music, a large array of local cuisine and health screenings, including an on-site HIV testing booth.


Ashley Crawford

Special to the AFRO