In recent years, it seemed like new music festivals were being announced every other week, with almost identical line-ups filling those stages in various states. The Essence Music Festival, which kicked off in 1995 (making it a granddaddy of current music festivals), will return to New Orleans once again from June 29 - July 2, bringing with it their usual stellar line-up of artists from the R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap worlds. Here are the five must-see artists that will be playing at this year's Essence Music Festival:
Diana Ross - Forget that she's been part of the public's consciousness for over 50 years. Or that she's an Academy Award nominee. Or that she's a Kennedy Center honoree. Or that she's been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Or that she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Or that she's a Golden Globe winner. Or that she received the Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award. Or that she headlined her own free concert in Central Park, battling a minor hurricane in the process (FYI, she won). Or that she can rock a Bob Mackie gown like nobody's business. She is, quite simply, Miss Ross. And to miss this legend would be a travesty.
Chance the Rapper - People tend to throw around the phrase 'game-changer' a bit too loosely these days. But with Chance the Rapper, there's really no other way to describe him. He turned the music industry's business model on its head with Coloring Book, his third album that was available via streaming-only and became the first streaming-only album to win a Grammy last year for Best Rap Album. He also announced last week that he's touring with his own American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, the first rapper to do so. Additionally, this is Chance's first appearance at the Essence Music Festival so it will be interesting to see if he brings any surprises to his set.
Chaka Khan - The High Priestess of R & B just released a new single and music video last week entitled "I Love Myself," and, seriously, how can you not love Chaka Khan? With several decades worth of hits and a multi-octave range that, thankfully, is still very much intact, Khan is known for giving the audience more than her all. Fun fact: I once saw Chaka Khan open up for James Brown and she outperformed him.
Jill Scott - What's great about seeing Jill Scott live is that she doesn't merely sing her songs she enacts them. This Essence Music Festival veteran is so completely in character that when she sings lines like "You're here, I'm pleased, I really dig your company," it seems like she's projecting that line onto you individually as you are surrounded by a sea of thousands. Be prepared for more one-on-one time with Scott when she takes the stage on Saturday, July 1.
Mary J. Blige - There's a reason why audiences connect with the Queen of Hip Hop Soul. Blige feels your pain because she's already been through whatever you are suffering. She feels your triumphs because she has climbed many mountains. And when she lets loose and starts dancing, she unleashes such joy it's infectious. But at the heart of it, Mary J. Blige is still one of the original Around the Way girls and her audiences love her for it.