by Diane Larche’
For New Pittsburgh Courier

It’s about music, inspiration and empowerment at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans during the Fourth of July weekend. The annual fest started in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Essence Magazine and is now in its 17th year.

It is the largest annual African-American cultural event in the country drawing nearly a half million people to the crescent city and Louisiana Superdome and pumping in over 100 million dollars into an economy that could use a boost.


From State of the World talks with the mayors of New Orleans and Atlanta during the free seminars at the Convention Center to Usher who performed as the closer on the big stage at the Louisiana Superdome

New Edition was a great addition to the Essence Music Festival this year. To the delight of their intergenerational fans over a 30 year span, yes can you believe its’ been 30 years since “Mr. Telephone Man,” “Candy Girl” and a string of bubble gum songs catapulted the Boston born boys to stardom, the original New Edition—Ralph Tresvant, Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell and Michael Bivans along with later addition Johnny Gill per­formed a repertoire of songs as a group and made room for individual solo projects of Bobby, Bell Biv DeVoe, Ralph and Gill. A tour is in the planning. Sporting white dinner jackets with black vests and pants, the crowd stayed on its collective feet singing along and dancing in the aisles. Later in the interview room, journalists eager to hear what’s been going on with the group since they last performed experienced a lock out when the media room got so full reporters were turned away due to overcrowding.

There is a major problem with Essence but a good problem to have, so much to do and so little time to do it all. With educational and information sessions going on at the Convention Center, performances on the main stage and those going on simultaneously in smaller spaces called “Super Lounges” it is difficult to see it all. I try. Running from George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic on the McDonald’s SuperLounge Stage to Doug E. Fresh on the Essence SuperLounge Stage. Both lounges were over capacity with long lines snaking around the arena as diehard fans waited. Honestly either of these groups could have performed in the main arena which seats thousands. Not to disappoint and in Funkadelic wild fashion the group was dressed in glitter with one shirtless member dressed in a white feather hat, white feather pants with a silver bejeweled belt doing head stands of tall speakers on stage. Both Doug E. Fresh, who has a dance named for him, and Clinton have sing a long type followers who know every word to every song performed.

Graduating Trey Songz no longer an opening act on the big stage moved to sophomore status Saturday night following opener Detroit’s amazing singer/keyboardist Kem who teamed up with vocalist Ledisi to perform “If It’s Love” from his new album Intimacy. New Orleans native and Oakland resident Ledisi said Essence put her on the map. “Everyone now knows me,” she said.

My perennial favorite has become crooner Charlie Wilson who mixes old school and contemporary music with such ease no wonder longevity is his to behold. The high energy fedora hat wearing legend with the dazzling coordinated glittery outfits has still got it and his show is not a performance but an experience. Whether dancing to the upbeat “You Dropped A Bomb On Me” his hit with the Gap Band or his recent sing along ballad “There Goes My Baby,” Uncle Charlie puts on an engaging must see show that is headed to Chastain Park here in Atlanta Friday, July 15.

While Mary J. Blige did a great job as closer of the fest on Sunday, I do miss Frankie Beverly and Maze’s performance. The last few years haven’t been the same without them.

Other weekend highlights:

Performances by Kanye West, El DeBarge, Chaka Khan who is working on a new album due out this year, Jennifer Hudson and Jill Scott who sang tunes from her new chart topping new album “The Light of The Sun.”

Kanye West taking everyone by surprise coming up on a riser in the center of the arena among the fans and walking through the crowd on his way to the stage shaking hands like a politician. Lots of visual effects with sparks and smoke

Coca Cola’s 125th anniversary celebration rolling out a huge designer cake in the shape of a Coke bottle to the oohs and ahhs of the guests enjoying dinner and dancing.

Actresses Ruby Dee and Angela Basset at McDonald’s 365 Awards luncheon on Friday with honoree Dee reciting poetry. TV One founder Cathy Hughes was also honored along Mary J. Blige and others.

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