In less than a decade, the Essence Music Festival has become one of New Orleans’ and America’s most anticipated and best-attended music festivals.

Initiated in 1995 as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of ESSENCE magazine, the Festival features a unique combination of star-studded concerts at the Louisiana Superdome and expansive, inspirational daytime programming at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, highlighted by a popular series empowerment seminars. The unprecedented format has earned the Festival a signature nickname: “Party with a Purpose.”

The concerts at the Superdome feature the best in contemporary and old-school R&B, soul, hip-hop, jazz, funk and more on a total of five stages: a main stage in the Superdome’s primary arena and in four loge-level “superlounges,” each offering different types of music in themed nightclub settings.

A Who’s Who of entertainers have appeared on the main stage: Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, Anita Baker, Lauryn Hill, R. Kelly, Maxwell, Patti LaBelle, Erykah Badu, LL Cool J, Jill Scott, Gladys Knight, The O’Jays, Destiny’s Child, Al Green, Brian McKnight, Barry White, D’Angelo, Alicia Keys, Babyface, India.Arie, The Isley Brothers, Steve Harvey, Queen Latifah, B.B. King, Earth, Wind & Fire, Gerald Levert, Teena Marie, Usher, Chris Rock, Ashanti, Jaheim, Chaka Khan, The Gap Band, Aaliyah, Bill Cosby, Sinbad, Angie Stone, Jamie Foxx, Yolanda Adams, The Fugees, Kelly Price, Mo’Nique, Monica, Cedric the Entertainer, Heather Headley, D.L. Hughley, Run- DMC, The Whispers, Deborah Cox, Montell Jordan, Regina Belle, The Temptations, Tom Joyner, Kool & the Gang, Faith Evans, Smokey Robinson…

The superlounges have presented: Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Solomon Burke, Dianne Reeves, Musiq, Biz Markie & Doug E. Fresh, Nappy Roots, Bobby Blue Bland, Will Downing, Michael Franks, Denise LaSalle, Ohio Players, Cassandra Wilson, Etta James, Maceo Parker, Rachelle Ferrell, Najee, Lakeside, Jeffrey Osborne, Millie Jackson, The Dells, Eric Benet, Third World, The Spinners, Average White Band, Hugh Masekela, ReBirth Brass Band, Betty Wright, Mint Condition, Amel Larrieux, The Manhattans, Angela Bofill, Tyrese, Clarence Carter, The Roots, Patti Austin, Steel Pulse, Tower of Power, Femi Anikulapo-Kuti, Oleta Adams, De La Soul, Keith Sweat, Nappy Roots….

The empowerment seminars feature notable African-American scholars, authors, business and community leaders. Lively, intelligent debates and discussions about issues such as spirituality, popular culture, and politics inspire audiences to think and act. Among the many keynote speakers and panelists who have appeared are: Reverend Jesse Jackson, Iyanla Vanzant, Johnnie Cochran, Dr. Cornel West, Honorable Kweisi Mfume, Honorable Maxine Waters, Reverend Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, Terry McMillan, Dr. Dennis Kimbro, Donna Richardson, Susan L. Taylor, Prophetess Juanita Bynum, Bertice Berry, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, Blair Underwood, Tavis Smiley, Chuck D, Sister Souljah, Dick Gregory, Dr. Gwendolyn Goldsby Grant, Billy Blanks, Dr. Na'im Akbar, Sister Ava Muhammad, Bishop T. D. Jakes, Sr., Donnie McClurkin, Earvin "Magic" Johnson…

Convention Center activities also include the Essence Marketplace, which offers original African and African-American arts and crafts, the best New Orleans cuisine, an Essence boutique, souvenirs, a celebrity “meet and greet” area, and more.

Over the three Festival days and nights, nearly 200,000 people attend all of the Festival’s events.

In a relatively short amount of time, the Essence Music Festival has become an event of deep cultural significance. As the New York Times said in 2003, “This is not a concert but an experience.”