2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture Recap

This year, Essence Festival of Culture was jam packed with lots of star power, brand activations and community events. It was clearly one of those “you had to be there” weekends but I’ll try my best to give ya’ll the highlights of each day! Most people don’t take the first day of the Festival into consideration because it concerns the business of Essence Fest, but you can check it out here.

So let’s get to it!

Day two of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ presented by Coca-Cola® served attendees with unforgettable experiences from the debut of AFROPUNK BLKTOPIA™ and Beautycon: ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ Edition, to various impactful conversations on the Global Black Economic Forum™ Headquarters Stage. For the first time in the nearly three-decade relationship between the ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ presented by Coca-Cola® and the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, the event took over the entire Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The entire ecosystem of the ESSENCE Ventures portfolio of brands came together to create an unforgettable Daytime Experience:

  • The Page to the Stage and Beyond: was a discussion of the nearly 40-year legacy and impact of The Color Purple featuring Blitz Bazawule, Taraji P. Henson, Danielle Brooks, Fantasia Barrino and Oprah freaking Winfrey. I need to reread The Color Purple before its theatrical release!
  • From the ESSENCE In His Zone™: Men’s Experience hosted conversations in celebration of Hip-Hop 50 with moderator Lowkey and guests Maino, and Cortez “Tez” Bryant.
  • Beautycon: ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ Edition is crafted with the community in mind shattering definitions, challenging perceptions, and creating space that champions Black beauty. Today, attendees experienced a segment called Celebrating The Hairs and Hues of Hollywood from those who create the images and stories across our screens who have profound responsibility in genuinely depicting the depth of the human experience, specifically the Black experience, including Coco Jones, Keisha Senter, and SheaMoisture’s President of Beauty & Wellbeing Cara Robinson Sabin.
  • ESSENCE Studios Film Festival™ hosted panels including Leaders of The New School with  Dominique Fishback, Jacob Latimore, Jabari Banks, as they shared their journeys and experiences as the new age of Black Hollywood. 
  • At some point, the Alabama Baddie Flo Milli was performing on a stage, which really made me smile because women from Alabama truly deserve their flowers.

Lauryn Hill took music devotees back in time with an extraordinary performance to celebrate the iconic 5x Grammy-winning “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” album’s 25th anniversary with surprise guest, Wyclef Jean. Janelle Monae and Ari Lennox also performed… all in one night!

Day three of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ presented by Coca-Cola® continued to serve attendees with unforgettable experiences from the daytime ESSENCE Stage™. The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center was filled with an indescribable joy that festival-goers could experience as day three continued with a full spectrum of unmatched daytime experiences. Highlights include:

  • A full day of panels at the ESSENCE Stage
  • ESSENCE Girls United Creators House™ continued to welcome attendees with panels such as The Forever Blueprint of Hip-Hop with Duckie Confetti and Tiz Balemly, who acknowledged the legendary figures and their work that has allowed today’s Hip-Hop artists to thrive and infiltrate the culture.
  • ESSENCE Studios Film Festival™ struck gold today with various star-studded discussions, including:
    • Angelique Roche spoke with Tiffany Haddish, Rosario Dawson, Justin Simien, and LaKeith Stanfield to spotlight The Walt Disney Studios’ upcoming film Haunted Mansion with special footage and an in-depth discussion.
    • The stars of the hit Showtimes drama series The Chi teased the new season with moderator Lynae Vanee and actors Jacob Latimore, Yolonda Ross, Birgundi Baker, Luke James, and Curtiss Cook.
    • Abbott Elementary’s top educators gathered to talk about the impact of the powerhouse ABC comedy with Sheryl Lee Ralph, Quinta Brunson, Lisa Ann Walter, Janelle James, Masonia Taylor, Ciarra Covi, and Zeberiah Newman.

During the nighttime performances, Missy Elliott, the first female in Hip-Hop to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, showed attendees how to ‘work it’ as she took the spotlight on the Superdome stage while the injection of Philly Soul pierced through when the one and only Jill Scott rocked the mic.

ESSENCE Girls United’s exclusive after-party, ESSENCE GU Kickback, wrapped up the evening at The Sugar Mill. Attendees enjoyed a lit lineup with performances by DJ Kitty Cash and DJ Odalys and hosted by Aliyahs Interlude.

The final day of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ presented by Coca-Cola®, attendees were served unforgettable experiences starting the day off with ESSENCE Get Lifted™: Gospel Celebration with Erica Campbell. Panels continued throughout all of the daytime experiences, including the ESSENCE Global Black Economic Forum™ HQ, which hosted a historic roundtable conversation with America’s leading Black mayors; ESSENCE Authors™ with Michelle Williams and Jeezy; and Beautycon: ESSENCE Festival of Culture™ Edition with Aliyah’s Interlude, IAMDDB, and Jodie Woods. Capping off the day were the nighttime performances by headliner Megan Thee Stallion alongside Tems, Angie Martinez, Eve, Salt-N-Pepa, Trina, and more! New Orlean’s own Lil Wayne brought the house down with a surprise performance to bring Hip-Hop 50 to his hometown on the Superdome stage, during this year’s festival.

The daytime experiences at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center rounded out the weekend perfectly, leaving attendees with a lasting high of joy. Highlights include:

  • ESSENCE Global Black Economic Forum™ HQ featured panel discussions with New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell moderating a conversation with Major Eric Adams of NYC, Major Karen Bass of LA, Major Sylvester Turner of Houston, Major Justin Bibb of Cleveland, and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial.

For the nighttime performances, 3x Grammy Award-winning artist, Megan Thee Stallion, showcased her impact on modern women rappers, rounding out our first-ever all-female Hip-Hop lineup. Radio icon Angie Martinez brought a golden celebration of the women who changed the face of Hip-Hop and influenced culture with a curation of performances by Eve, Salt-N-Pepa, Remy Ma, Trina, and New Orleans’ very own Mia X. Additionally, Wizkid, afro beats hitmaker, and Grammy-award winning artist, joined the closing night along with R&B songstress Muni Long and Tems. The night was hosted by Abbott Elementary breakout star Janelle James, with Hip-Hop classics and remixes to keep the party going from DJ Spinderella.


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