Thousands of people are pouring into New Orleans for the four-day Essence Festival that begins Friday (June 30) and continues through Monday (July 3). 

The festival, which has called New Orleans its home for almost 30 years, will include a wide array of cultural events and topical discussions. That includes a musical lineup to honor 50 years of hip-hop history with some of the biggest names in the genre performing on the concert series stage. 

“It is the largest festival in the country by per-day attendance,” Essence Ventures President and CEO Caroline Wanga said.

Last year’s festival generated $327 million and created more than 3,500 jobs for the New Orleans metropolitan area, according to a 2022 study conducted by Dillard University on the economic impact of the Essence Festival.

Those numbers were touted by New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell during the Essence Festival of Culture press conference Thursday. The mayor noted that more than 500,000 visitors attended the Essence Festival of Culture last year. The mayor welcomed the festival back to the city in its 29th year, describing New Orleans as “the most Afrocentric city in the United States.”

“You don’t mess up a good thing. You keep a good thing going,” Cantrell said of the festival’s many years in New Orleans. 

Cantrell also noted Essence’s mission to uplift Black women and girls. 

“Thank you, Essence, for your intentionality,” Cantrell said. “When you invest in the Black woman you bring up the Black family.” 

This year’s musical lineup features a number of legendary Black women in hip-hop including Missy Elliot, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve, and Megan Thee Stallion. There will also be a special performance by Lauryn Hill in recognition of the 25th anniversary of her Grammy-winning album “The Mis-education of Lauryn Hill.” 

New Orleans natives, rappers Mia X and Juvenile, who is most famous for his 1999 song, “Back that Thang Up,” will also perform on the Essence concert stage.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell on Thursday, June 29, 2023, welcomes the Essence Festival back to the city for its 29th year. Credit: Nigell Moses/Verite News

“It’s really an honor to headline such a lineup full of legends and emerging stars. I don’t take it for granted,” Megan Thee Stallion told People magazine about her upcoming performance.

The Essence Festival is known to feature big names from various fields. Newsmakers and leaders who have graced a stage at Essence include Janet Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, former First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Harris is expected to return to Essence this year to speak at the Global Black Economic Forum. Other Biden administration officials are expected to attend the forum as well, including Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen and EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

In addition to the music concerts, panels and workshops, this year the Essence Festival will feature AfroPunk BLKTOPIA. AfroPunk highlights Black alternative, rock and indie music and the stars associated with it. The mission is to create a safe space for those who feel left out of Black mainstream culture. The AfroPunk Krewe Ball will be held at the Joy Theatre for the duration of the festival.

The Essence food and wine festival will showcase different dishes from Africa, the Caribbean and New Orleans. And Essence Studios will present a film festival where visitors can watch exclusive screenings of original films, new media and live screenplays. 

The Essence Wellness House will give tips on how to best take care of your mind and body. There’s also a men’s zone, authors showcase, and BeautyCon center, a space to “celebrate all sizes, hues and identities.”

“We have something for everybody,” Barkue Tubman-Zawolo, chief of staff and diasporic engagement at Essence Ventures. 

New Orleans businesses and culture will be front and center during the Essence Festival. The Community Corner will highlight organizations that are looking to inspire the next generation from economic empowerment programs to civil rights and social justice organizations. The nation’s biggest festival will also shine a spotlight on small Black businesses through its SOKO NO.LA event. 

Each evening, the festival will pay homage to a New Orleans bounce and hip-hop legend: Friday night, 5th Ward Weebie will be remembered. Saturday night, Soulja Slim will be honored and Sunday night, there will be a dedication to Magnolia Shorty curated by producer BlaqNmilD.

“It was important for us to pay respect to key leaders and musicians in the city,” said Hakeem Holmes, vice president of Essence Festival of Culture and a New Orleans native. 

Party promoter Darron Wheeler will travel to New Orleans from Baltimore for the festival. 

“Essence Festival means everything to Black culture,” Wheeler said.  “It’s the attention to detail that is curated for the Black community — from music, to seminars, to hair products for women.” 

The Essence Festival will wrap up with a Family Day Block Party at Louis Armstrong Park on Monday. It will feature local vendors, food and local musicians including the Soul Rebels with special guest Big Freedia, and the Original Pinettes Brass Band.

“When I first came to Essence, it felt like home,” said Erika Bennett, chief marketing officer at Essence Ventures. “It felt like a warm hug. It felt like a family reunion. It was Black girl magic. I feel that every time I come here. That’s the experience we want to give our attendees.”

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Khalil Gillon is a New Orleans native from Algiers. He attended Thomas Jefferson High School and is a graduate of Louisiana State University in political journalism. Passionate about politics, Gillon ran...