Essence announces lineup for virtual 2021 festival

Jazmine Sullivan, D Nice, Kirk Franklin, Ne-Yo and Tank will all be performing at this year's event

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Although there is welcome news on the coronavirus front with vaccinations up and infections going down, this year’s Essence Festival of Culture will remain virtual with some in-person experiences available for first responders and essential workers in New Orleans.

But, that doesn’t mean the lineup will be any less packed or star-studded. Performing for this year’s event are Jazmine Sullivan, DJ DNice, Tank, Kirk Franklin, Michelle Williams and DJ Khaled and Friends, among others.

Ne-Yo, Jazmine Sullivan and DNice will all perform at this year’s virtual Essence Festival (Getty Images)

Special guests including Mary J. Blige, The Breakfast Club’s Angela Yee, Miss Lawrence, Supacent, New Orleans born entrepreneur Jesseca Dupart, and more are slated to make appearances at the Essence Fest which will be livestreamed over two weekends — June 25 to 27 and July 2 to 4.

“As a live experience, the Essence Festival normally attracts more than 500,000 attendees annually during July 4th weekend in New Orleans — but last year, we made the necessary decision to shift our multi-day celebration to an innovative virtual format due to COVID-19,” said Latraviette Smith-Wilson, Essence chief strategy & engagement officer, in a statement.

“Essence Festival was the first of its kind and scale to be executed virtually during the pandemic, and our team worked tirelessly to deliver the content, programming and resources that our community desired. As a result, the festival provided much-needed, only-at-Essence content and experiences that inspired, entertained, informed and empowered—resulting in  45+ million full-stream views of 2020 Festival content to date.”

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“This year, we are thrilled to bring forth another exciting talent line-up, curated programming, and a new hybrid experience that will directly touch the people of New Orleans and Louisiana while also further extending our reach, engagement and impact via enhanced digital, technology and streaming capabilities to connect more of our community in the U.S. and across the diaspora,” she continued.

According to a press release, first responders and essential workers located in New Orleans will have the opportunity to participate in some in-person events which have yet to be announced.

Essence, which is now owned by Shea Moisture CEO and owner Richelieu Dennis, has been putting on the Festival since 1995. The event began as a celebration of the magazine’s 25th anniversary. Since then, it’s morphed into an event that brings more than 500,000 people to New Orleans during the Fourth of July weekend. Since its inception, 2020 and 2021 are the only times the in-person event has been canceled.

In 2006, the festival took place in Houston after the havoc wreaked on New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

2019 ESSENCE Festival Presented By Coca-Cola - Louisiana Superdome- Day 3
Frankie Beverly performs onstage during the 2019 ESSENCE Festival on July 07, 2019. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)

Artists who have performed in the past include New Edition, Mary J. Blige, Prince, Frankie Beverly and Maze, John Legend, Maxwell, Brandy, Alicia Keys, the O’Jays, Babyface, Aretha Franklin, Jill Scott, Beyonce, Teena Marie, Usher and Chaka Khan.

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In recent years, as the festival expanded into a full weekend of panels, events, workshops and other special events, guests have included Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Iyanla Vanzant, Gayle King, Oprah Winfrey and Kamala Harris, among others.

You can watch the festival via livestream on and on June 25 to 27 and July 2 to 4.

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