Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott and old-school favorite Frankie Beverly will help Essence Festival celebrate its 25th anniversary at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in July.

They’ll join Anthony Hamilton, H.E.R., Pharrell Williams, NAS, Morris Day, Musiq Soulchild, Sheila E, Ledisi, Teddy Riley and New Orleans’ own Big Freedia, PJ Morton, Mia X, Erica Falls, Nigel Hall and Water Seed for three nights of concerts July 5-7.

Comedian, actress and “The Real” co-host Loni Love will take over as the new main stage emcee this year.

Three-day ticket packages start at $225 plus service charges and are on sale now.

Since its 1995 inception, Essence Festival has evolved into the world's premier showcase of urban contemporary music. It has been held in the Superdome every year except 2006, when it moved to Houston while the Dome underwent repairs after Hurricane Katrina.

Essence magazine co-founder Ed Lewis and legendary festival impresario George Wein launched the festival as a celebration of the magazine's 25th anniversary. Now the festival itself is turning 25.

It is coming off an especially successful year. In 2018, for the first time, Essence sold out all three nights of concerts. With a nightly capacity of about 46,000 tickets, that added up to nearly 140,000 total concert attendees.

Many thousands more crowded into the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center for the free, daytime Essence "empowerment experience" and its product presentations, celebrity appearances, and panel discussions and seminars.

The rise in attendance for 2018 was driven in large part by the movie “Girls Trip.” Released in 2017, the raunchy comedy starred Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Tiffany Haddish as college friends who reunite for a pilgrimage to the festival. The movie featured footage shot on location in the Superdome during the 2016 Essence, and the festival served as the backdrop for the entire film.

61st Annual Grammy Awards - Press Room

H.E.R. poses in the press room with the awards for best R&B album for "H.E.R." and best R&B performance for "Best Part" at the 61st annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. 

“Girls Trip” turned out to be a two-hour commercial for Essence. As a result, advance ticket sales were stronger than usual even before the talent roster was announced. The film promoted the festival as a destination in and of itself, regardless of the performers.

Most of 2018’s marquee names were veterans of past Essence festivals, but they were often presented in fresh ways. Essence seems to be taking the same approach for 2019.

The festival’s 25th anniversary coincides with the 25th anniversary of two landmark albums: Blige’s “My Life” and NAS’ “Illmatic." Their performances at Essence will likely spotlight those albums.

Frankie Beverly and Maze closed out the first 15 editions of Essence, inspiring a mass “electric slide” across the Dome floor. Looking to put a fresh face on the festival, a new administration at Essence magazine and a new producer for the festival phased out Beverly. Over the past decade, he has instead performed each spring at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

This year, according to a news release announcing the lineup, Essence will “cultivate a special main stage moment honoring Frankie Beverly for his lifetime contribution to music.”

frankie beverly

Frankie Beverly fronts Maze during the 2015 ESSENCE Festival at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La. on Friday, July 3, 2015.

Blige is one of Essence’s signature artists, a dependably popular headliner returning for the third consecutive year and at least her 10th appearance overall.

Last year at Essence, pioneering rapper Elliott was part of Latifah’s “Ladies First” revue. Elliott previously performed her own full set at Essence in 2015.

Similarly, Teddy Riley rounded up an assortment of New Jack Swing-era veterans for a revue-style showcase in 2018.

This year's roster also includes an act billed as Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and Mike, which consists of four of the five members of New Edition: Ronnie DeVoe, Bobby Brown, Ricky Bell and Michael Bivins.

Representing the next generation at the 2019 Essence is R&B singer-guitarist H.E.R., one of the breakout stars during the recent Grammy Awards telecast.

And 2019’s roster of New Orleans talent is stronger than in recent years, ranging from R&B singer-songwriter and Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton to bounce queen diva Big Freedia to the Earth Wind & Fire-inspired band Water Seed.

The full list of announced performers includes Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Anthony Hamilton, Big Freedia, Davido, Doug E. Fresh, H.E.R., Frankie Beverly, Jermaine Dupri, Ledisi, MC Lyte, Morris Day, Musiq Soulchild, NAS, Pharrell, Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky & Mike, Sheila E., Teddy Riley, Teyana Taylor, Timbaland, VanJess, 702, AlunaGeorge, ALX, Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Brownstone, City Girls, El Debarge, Elle Varner, Erica Falls, EU, Force MDs, Ginuwine, Jacquees, Jojo, Koryn Hawthorne, Lucky Daye, Mase, Mia X, Nao, Nigel Hall, Normani, PJ Morton, Pell, Luke James, The Hamiltones, Queen Naija, Rakim, Sauti Sol, Scarface, Talk Box and Water Seed.

Go to essence.com/festival for information.


Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera.

Keith Spera writes about music, culture and his kids.