Vice President Harris Joins Essence Festival Celebrating 30 Years of Black Culture Mastery


New Orleans is once again set to serve as the pulse of Black culture, with an influential constellation of policymakers, spiritual leaders, trendsetters, and health experts gathering for the Fourth of July weekend in celebration of the Essence Festival of Culture. The festival is expected to orchestrate a symphony of entertainment, business networking, and insightful dialogues aimed at sketching solutions for the issues faced by urban communities. As the silver-tinged magic of the festival’s 30-year journey unravels, its DNA remains the same – sprightly, purposeful revelry.

In an anticipated highlight of the festival, Vice President Kamala Harris plans to engage in thoughtful discussions with Essence CEO Caroline Wanga at the Global Black Economic Forum. This dialogical rendezvous creates a backdrop of political scrutiny, with some proposing the idea of Harris replacing President Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket in the aftermath of his debate with former President Donald Trump.

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Hakeem Holmes, Vice President of the Essence Festival of Culture, encapsulated the event as a voluminous display of Black womanhood. “The festival sprouted roots and blossomed from the strength of Black women. They built it, nourished it, networked at it, and took the lessons learned back to their communities,” he proudly pointed out.

Over the years, the event has evolved into a multi-generational experience, a melting pot offering a cultural buffet for the entire Black family. Holmes credits the city’s nurturing embrace, a host to the phenomenon for every year barring one. In 2006, however, Houston donned the role of host as New Orleans grappled with the wreckage of Hurricane Katrina.

Lisa Alexis, the driving force behind Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s Office of Cultural Economy, estimated the festival’s economic impact on the city over its 30-year tenure at an impressive $327 million. “The event began as a party with purpose,” Alexis said. “Yet it has grown into a conglomerate of activities – the Black Global Economic Forum, film festivals, wellness zones, and a marketplace – boosting local businesses and fostering mutual support among cultural entrepreneurs.”

Holmes believes the festival’s longevity hinges on its ability to continually reinvent itself while honoring its roots and building intimate relationships within the community. He likened the experience to a weekly visit to a familiar church, “Each sermon touches the congregants in uniquely different ways despite being delivered by the same person. It’s the community gathering, the homecoming, the reunion that attracts and sustains engagement.”

Despite the challenge of keeping long-term fans continuously engrossed, Holmes is confident the festival’s slate of entertainment will keep everyone enthralled. One of the festival’s features includes a star-studded concert on Friday night at the Superdome. Bryan “Birdman” Williams and Friends, celebrating the 30-year history of Cash Money Records, tops the billing. Other luminaries performing include T-Pain, The Roots, and Mannie Fresh, along with R&B artists Jacquees, Ari Lennox, and country singer Mickey Guyton, to name a few.

Simultaneously, Usher takes the center stage on Saturday night, commemorating the 20th anniversary of his ‘Confessions’ album, widely recognized for iconic hits like ‘Yeah,’ ‘Burn,’ and ‘Bad Girl.’ A coterie of artists will accompany him, including, but not limited to, Charlie Wilson, Big Boi, Sheila E., and TGT, a sensational musical ensemble featuring Tyrese, Ginuwine, and Tank.

Janet Jackson will spearhead the finale, with a host of musicians on the roster, such as Victoria Monét, Keke Palmer, SWV, Jagged Edge, and Anthony Hamilton. The festival will wrap with an all-white gala and a special homage to Frankie Beverly & Maze, personally crafted by Grammy winner Bryan-Michael Cox. Frankie and his troupe have long bid farewell to live performing, and their farewell tour is on the route.

For 15 years, the sound of the group’s massive concerts resonated with thousands of fans, joining in the euphony of their timeless hits, including “Before I Let Go,” “Joy and Pain,” and “Happy Feelin’s.”

Sunday night will also witness a special tribute session – a blend of performances by the honoree and renditions dedicated to him, a rightful tribute to the legendary icon. Holmes described the moment as a milestone of gratitude, a tradition deeply cherished by fans.

In a poignant reflection, Holmes said, “This year, we aim to honor milestones. We have giants in their respective fields – Usher and Janet – as well as emerging talents such as Victoria Monét. It’s a visual and auditory chronology of our culture and the music as represented by our line-ups, which span genres and generations, offering a connection to past and future icons that resonates with our audience.”