The 2015 Essence Festival will feature Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, comedian Kevin Hart, Common, India.Arie and New Orleans’ own Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, among others, on its main stage at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this summer. The 21st annual Essence is July 2-5.
Hart will headline the festival’s opening “Now Playing” concert, a sort of soft opening, on Thursday, July 2. The festival first presented a smaller Thursday night event, with reduced seating and only one stage, in 2014. Hart first performed on the main Essence stage in 2012.
Other 2015 acts revealed in what is described as the “first round” of talent revelations include homegrown rappers Mystikal and Dee-1, plus Kool Moe Dee, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Floetry, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding, Kelly Price, Bilal, Nico & Vinz, Lianne La Havas, Elle Varner, SZA, Tonya Bond Cannon, Leon Bridges, Andra Day, Raheem DeVaughn, Mali Music, Eric Roberson, Teedra Moses, Avery*Sunshine, Kindred The Family Soul, Goapele, Robert Glasper, Tweet, Jeff Bradshaw and such local acts as Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Tank & the Bangas.
Of the announced main stage performers, only Lamar is new to Essence. The rapper’s 2012 major label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” is a concept album that traces his childhood and youth in Compton, Calif. A critical and commercial success, it sold more than a million copies and was named the sixth-best album of 2012 by Rolling Stone, among many other accolades.
Lamar’s live mash-up of his “M.A.A.D City” and Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” ranked among the most incendiary sets of the 2014 Grammy telecast. However, none of Lamar’s seven nominations yielded a win. In February 2014, he performed brieflyprior to the NBA Allstar Game’s slam dunk contest at the Smoothie King Center.
Otherwise, the headliners are familiar names for Essence attendees. Blige was featured at the very first Essence, in 1995, and has returned frequently over the years, moving up the bill to become a favorite headliner. Badu, who was in New Orleans in January forthe ExhibitBE art installation’s closing block party, has also performed at multiple Essence festivals, as has India.Arie.
The rapper Common earned praise for his appearance at the recent Grammy Awards, during which he performed music from the film “Selma” with John Legend.
Additional acts for both the main Essence stage and the four secondary “superlounge” stages are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Essence is executive produced by a division of Essence Communications, the parent company of Essence magazine, and produced by the New Orleans-based Solomon Group.
In addition to the concerts in the Superdome, Essence includes free daytime seminars at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
Essence magazine co-founder Edward Lewis and Festival Productions founder George Wein conceived of the first Essence Festival as a celebration of the magazine’s 25thanniversary. The first “party with a purpose,” in 1995, presented the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Harvard’s Cornel West, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, and attorney Johnnie Cochran at its daytime empowerment seminars at the convention center.
The evening concerts in the Superdome featured Bill Cosby, Sinbad and Queen Latifah as hosts. First year performers include Mary J. Blige – who only merited an 8 p.m. performance slot – Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle, Gladys Knight, Luther Vandross, B.B. King, Boyz II Men, the O’Jays featuring Gerald Levert, Anita Baker and Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. The Isley Brothers filled in at the last minute for an ailing Barry White.
That first Essence Festival’s success guaranteed an encore.
Over the past two decades, Essence has presented a succession of marquee old- and new-school R&B acts, including Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Kanye West, D’Angelo, Janet Jackson, Chris Brown, Usher and Maxwell.
The 20th anniversary Essence in 2014 featured Prince, Janelle Monae, Nile Rodgers, Mary J. Blige, Charlie Wilson, Jill Scott, Lionel Richie and Ledisi, among others.