NEW ORLEANS-- The year was 1995, and the folks at Essence Magazine had teamed up with noted festival producer George Wein to develop a festival to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the magazine. By then Essence was the pre-eminent publication targeting African American women and their interest. The fact that Wein produced the already successful New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in our city probably helped land NOLA as the location for this new fest, but with the assistance of then-mayor Marc Morial's administration, a deal was struck to bring a festival celebrating the magazine and featuring best music in Black America here.
A look at who performed the first year of the festival, known then as the Essence Music Festival, reads like a who's who of premiere talent, spread over 3 nights on the floor of the Louisiana Superdome: Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin and more. This is a look at the the first year's advertisement poster, with logo designed the late New Orleans artist Douglass Redd.
With a lineup like that on the main stage, it's no wonder that the Essence Festival went on to have many more successful years. A look at the side of the poster also lists Superlounge artists like Denise LaSalle, The Ohio Players, and the Jimmy Smith Trio, Bobby "Blue" Bland and Angela Bofill.
Hail Essence Festival! Thanks for 25 years and here's to 25 more!!
Thanks to the Ashe Cultural Arts Center for lending the image of the first Essence Festival poster.