Essence Festival Sunday gospel concert.
Essence Festival Sunday gospel concert. (Photo by Alexis Garrett Stodghill)

This Sunday morning, the Essence Festival kicked off a worship service that shook the rafters of the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. A day-long concert called “Get Lifted: An All Star Gospel Tribute to Tramaine Hawkins and Donnie McClurkin” got started with a moving performance by Michelle Williams that flowed into a rousing full gospel choir show by Tyrone Foster and The Arc Singers.

Performances featuring Hawkins, Yolanda Adams, and the biggest names in gospel are all part of the amazing gathering of praise and worship talent Essence Festival organizers brought together for the last day of the event. These free performances will wrap up the three days of free seminars, panels, and more presented daily in the Morial Convention Center for over 100,000 daily attendants from July 5-7.

Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications, told theGrio that the 19th installment of the Essence Festival is going better than ever.

“I think the festival is going extraordinarily well,” she told theGrio in the green room, after appearing on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton. MSNBC, media partner of the Essence Festival, has been broadcasting live from the convention hall in front of live audiences. “It’s been a wonderful celebration of the community of Essence readers.”

Part of that celebration included the first ever Family Reunion Day held on Thursday, July 4. Free to the public, the food, star performances, and informative speakers featured were a gift to attendants as part of the festival’s mission to give back. The fireworks display that was part of the package attracted over 52,000 people. This led into the daily convention center experience and the musical performances at night.

“The convention center experience has been completely re-imagined,” Ebanks said of the mix of big sponsor installations featuring Fortune 500 companies giving away products (including a car!) and smaller booths serving up local food and crafts.

The concerts at night, while not free, added an extra layer of excitement to the total Essence Festival experience for ticket holders.

“Jill Scott on Friday night was spectacular, and Maxwell,” Ebanks said of the main attractions to grace the Mercedez-Benz Superdome that evening. “Last night, Trey Songz — the screaming!”

On Saturday, Charlie Wilson performed, as well as New Edition who “just electrified the Superdome,” Ebanks related. “I’ve never seen it like that.”

Tonight, those lucky enough to hold tickets are getting geared up for special appearances by Janelle Monae and Beyonce. For the rest of the day, folks will continue to enjoy free entertainment and educational opportunities, including a panel on black love and relationships with religious leaders such as Meagan Good and her husband Devon Franklin, who is a pastor, and Bishop Paul Morton and Debra Morton.

“What more can you say? It’s been extraordinary,” concluded Ebanks. “Our partners have been phenomenal.”

MSNBC, the parent organization of theGrio, was also highlighted by Ebanks as part of the new, expansive direction the Essence Fest has taken this year.

“This was our first ever partnership with MSNBC,” she elaborated. “It has just excited all of the attendees who feel that news is very important. Eighty-seven percent of our readers of our community have more of a focus on those issues that are relevant to black America, and MSNBC has provided that. They came in, and filled that real need, so we’re very excited.”

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on theGrio @lexisb.