The 2016 Essence Festival main stage headliners will be pop icon Mariah Carey, contemporary R&B singer Maxwell and, for the second year in a row, much-acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar. They’ll join festival favorite Charlie Wilson, Babyface, New Edition, Faith Evans and Ciara in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome from June 30 to July 3.
Other acts booked for the 22nd annual Essence Fest include Estelle, Kelly Price, Tyrese, Digable Planets, the Brand New Heavies and retro soul singer Leon Bridges.
Local musicians who will appear in the four secondary “super-lounge” stages in the Dome’s outer corridors include Cyril Neville, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the New Breed Brass Band.
Carey will be making her Essence debut. She was on the relatively short list of major female R&B artists of the past 20 years who have not previously taken the Superdome stage. Among the top-selling female artists ever, Carey has of late spent much of her time onstage at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, offering a show that includes all 18 of her No. 1 hits. Her most recent album was 2015’s “#1 to Infinity,” her third greatest-hits compilation.
Wilson, the reborn frontman of the Gap Band, has lit up the Dome during every Essence Fest since 2009. His mix of Gap Band favorites, his more recent R&B-for-grown-ups ballads and slow jams, and his flashy, sweaty, old-school showmanship plays well with the Essence audience.
Lamar headlined the closing night of the 2015 Essence Festival. In the past year, the 28-year-old native of Compton, California, has enhanced his stature as one of hip-hop’s most respected and compelling artists. He delivered an ambitious, theatrical performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards, where his most recent album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” won five awards, including best rap album of the year.
Maxwell first performed at Essence in 1997, soon after his “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite” anointed him the new voice of bedroom nouveau soul. He canceled a planned return to the Superdome in 2000 at the last minute, then semiretired for several years.
In 2009, he ran extremely late for his Essence comeback show, which didn’t conclude until nearly 3 a.m. In 2013, for his most recent Essence appearance, he was on time.
New Edition also was last seen at Essence in 2013. The classic 1980s roster of the Jackson 5-inspired hit-making machine included Ralph Tresvant, Bobby Brown, Michael Bivins, Ricky Bell, Ronnie DeVoe and Johnny Gill. They have reunited in various combinations to reprise “Mr. Telephone Man,” “Jealous Girl,” “Candy Girl” and other radio favorites from back in the day, as well as hits from the individual members’ solo careers.
In November, Durban, South Africa, will host the first Essence Festival outside of the United States. To promote that event, at least two performers from South Africa — Zakes Bantwini and Skye Wanda — will perform at the Superdome in what’s been dubbed the World Music Superlounge.
The complete list of announced 2016 Essence performers includes Babyface, BJ The Chicago Kid, Charlie Wilson, Ciara, Cyril Neville, Daley, DeJ Loaf, Digable Planets, Doug E. Fresh, Eric Bellinger, Estelle, Faith Evans, Jeremih, Jidenna, Judith Hill, Kelly Price, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Leshurr, Lalah Hathaway, Leon Bridges, Lion Babe, Little Simz, Mali Music, Mariah Carey, Maxwell, MC Lyte, New Breed Brass Band, New Edition, Robert Glasper Experiment, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, St. Beauty, the Brand New Heavies, The Internet, Tyrese, Tink and V. Bozeman.
Additional performers will be revealed in the coming weeks.
In addition to the nighttime concerts in the Superdome, the Essence Festival encompasses three days of free seminars and activities at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
The Essence Festival is executive produced by a division of Essence Communications, publisher of Essence magazine. The festival is produced by the New Orleans-based events company the Solomon Group.
Tickets to the Essence Festival are on sale now via Essence.com and Ticketmaster.
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.