Essence Festival reigns as one of the largest African American music festivals in the United States. Attendance reaches over 500,000 each year in person in the Crescent City and last year’s festival saw 1.9 million live and virtual attendees.
The 2022 festival had a $327 million impact on the City of New Orleans’ economy, according to a study commissioned by Essence and generated by Dillard University. Before Essence, the city struggled in the summer because of the sometimes tumultuous and always hot weather and this year was no exception with outside temperatures reaching 100 degrees.
The first full day of Essence Festival kicked off in New Orleans on Friday downtown at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for daytime activities and Caesars Superdome for nighttime concerts.
Daytime Highlights At The Convention Center
Vice President Kamala Harris joined the Global Black Economic Forum™ Headquarters Stage and provided attendees with insight into the fight for reproductive freedom with lawyer, journalist, author, and View co-host Sunny Hostin and executive director of Sister Song Monica Simpson. VP Harris also spoke about the disappointment of the Supreme Court making a decision that would dissolve affirmative action at colleges across the US this week.
Immediately following the discussion with the Vice President, Oprah Winfrey followed with a Chief to Chief Interview session with Essence CEO Caroline A. Wanga.
The first part of the interview focused on the new musical, feature film version of The Color Purple that Oprah is producing that will be hitting theaters nationwide in December. Winfrey spoke about how much the book by Alice Walker meant to her and what an honor it was to be in the original movie in 1985. Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Steven Spielberg and Scott Sanders are all returning to produce the new version in 2023.
In response to a question about what advice the audience had for “finding their chiefdom,” Oprah spoke about finding it inside not looking to the outside. Any question you have about your life you already there and inside you. You will not get to the answer by asking everyone else. You can only get to the answer by being still. And when you don’t know what to do, you do nothing until the answer rises up inside you. Work on making yourself the master of your soul and captain of your own life. She also spoke about leading with intention as being a key to success over her life and her companies.
At the end of the interview, the trailer for new musical version of The Color Purple.
Oprah Winfrey along with the film stars Fantasia, Danielle Brooks, Taraji P. Henson and Director Blitz Bazawule came to the stage next for a Q&A to discuss the upcoming film and what impact the original version had on their lives.
After the daytime event concluded, thousands of festivalgoers headed over to the Superdome to keep the party flowing into the night.
Friday Night Concert Highlights at the Superdome
Tobe Nwigwe kicked off the night around 7:20 PM with a beautifully choregraphed set with background dancers floating across the stage as he performed. His wife Martica “Fat” Nwigwe joined him on stage to perform as well throughout the set.
Ari Lennox had social media buzzing as many in the dome discovered the R&B artist for the first time. Ari took the stage wearing a red fringe bodysuit and red leather overcoat as she performed fan-favorites like “Whipped Cream,” “BMO,” “Pressure,” and more.
New Orleans’ own Juvenile took the stage by storm on Friday night. The performance at Essence Fest followed a viral debut performance on NPR’s Tiny Desk series. He and Mannie Fresh brought some New Orleans bounce by running through a few of their biggest hits on the tiny desk stage with a little help from their local NOLA friends Trombone Shorty and Jon Batiste.
Juvenile’s “Back That Azz Up” live performance at the fest was a true highlight of the evening and a fitting New Orleans tribute to 50 Years of Hip Hop.
Night one of the 50 Years of Hip Hop tribute rolled on as beatboxer Doug E Fresh took the stage and brought out some of his friends for a true hip-hop education for the younger members of the crowd in the Superdome.
Grandmaster Coz of the Cold Crush Brothers came out as well to join the fun. The Sugar Hill Gang, one of hip-hop’s early hit-making groups, upped the energy as they hit the stage singing their song “Rapper’s Delight.” Melle Mel and Scorpio, alumni of the Bronx’s fabled Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five also participated in the tribute.
Mid-set Atlanta’s Bone Crusher came out crushed his 2003 hit “Never Scared” while wearing a leg brace.
Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Eric Sermon, KRS-One, and Slick Rick continued to deliver hit after hit during the tribute. Slick Rick, sporting a flashy auction paddle necklace and a stylishly tilted hat, added to the unforgettable lineup. Rick also joined Doug E Fresh on his 1985 hit “The Show.”
Actress and singer Janelle Monáe was a late addition to the festival in 2023 but she delivered a vibrant performance that mesmerized the packed Superdome. Monáe emerged in the back of the stage in a flowered covered cap and hat with “Float,” one of five “The Age of Pleasure” tracks she showcased.
In her performance of “Champagne S—,” she showcased a coordinated ensemble consisting of black-and-white shorts, a matching halter top, and a hat. Her outfit exuded a beach-ready vibe, particularly suited for her “Black Sugar Beach” theme.
In one of the most talked about Essence Fest moments Monáe lifted her bikini top revealing her pasty-covered breast to the audience while singing “You cannot police me, so get off my areola.”
Ms. Lauryn Hill closed the night on the main stage and took music devotees back in time with an extraordinary performance to celebrate the iconic 5x Grammy-winning “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” album’s 25th anniversary with surprise guest, Wyclef Jean.
Ms. Hill took the stage around 1 a.m. backed by a full live orchestra for the main stage headlining performance. She was wearing an elegant royal blue dress ensemble as she lit up the dome with an hour of hits that only a legend could deliver.
Essence Day 1 was definitely a marathon and not a sprint and setup a weekend full of music and events for the hundreds of thousands of attendees who came to celebrate and party in New Orleans.