Names in the sky: who to see at the 2017 Essence Festival

Performing her biggest concert yet in her new home, New Orleans resident Solange is among the closing acts scheduled for the final night of Essence 2017, joining headliners Diana Ross, Chance the Rapper, Mary J. Blige and John Legend. Now making its 23rd entry, the festival has cemented itself as a celebratory weekend offering multiple forums for empowerment and reflection with free speeches and seminars in addition to performances by black artists inside the Superdome.

Solange’s critically acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning 2016 album A Seat at the Table is massive, her third full-length entry in a career spanning Motown-inspired dance pop and Blood Orange-produced R&B. A Seat at the Table, released on her New Orleans-based imprint Saint Records, examines blackness, prejudice and identity, burrowed deep into her unique vision of funk, soul and R&B, guided by narrator Master P. She performs at 7:30 p.m. July 2 on the main stage. Here are several other performance highlights.


Moses Sumney
7:20 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
The singer-songwriter dribbled out his space-age falsetto on singles like “Lonely World” before releasing 2016’s ethereal Lamentations, floating in the space between Kanye West’s auto-tune echoes and Radiohead’s cinematic tendencies.

Ro James
8:30 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
2016’s between-the-sheets anthem “Permission” previewed Ro James’ follow-up full-length Eldorado, a breezy debut riding on spare trap beats and washed-out keyboards.

PJ Morton
8:35 p.m., Essence Superlounge
The New Orleans songwriter — a St. Augustine High School grad who later joined arena-pop band Maroon 5 — released his 2017 album Gumbo on his own Morton Records. The album’s funk guitar slaps, classic rhythm section, upbeat keyboard licks and Morton’s versatile voice spike his Stevie Wonder-inspired, pop-inflected R&B. (Morton also joined Wonder onstage at this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, comfortably slipping into a verse on “I Wish.”)

John Legend
9:20 p.m., Mainstage
After advocating for prison sentencing reform in the Louisiana Legislature, the multiple Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter returns to New Orleans for his first performance since the 2017 NBA All-Star Game halftime show and a showstopping Jazz Fest appearance in 2015.

Diana Ross
10:40 p.m., Mainstage
The Motown legend — from Supreme to Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient — closes out the first night of Essence 2017.


The Jones Girls feat. Shirley Jones
7:50 p.m., For the Love of R&B Superlounge
Following the death of Brenda and Valorie Jones, Shirley Jones carries the torch for the ’80s R&B group, which landed hits like “Who Can I Run To” and “You Gonna Make Me Love Somebody Else.”

8 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
“Good as Hell,” the irresistible 2016 anthem from singer and rapper Lizzo, glimpsed her genre-blending, body-positive and joke-filled debut EP Coconut Oil, on which she sings “I don’t need a crown to know that I’m a queen.”

Remy Ma
8:50 p.m., Essence Superlounge
Likely known for her ongoing feuds with Foxy Brown and Nicki Minaj, Bronx rapper Remy Ma has appeared on classic tracks like “Ante Up” and “Lean Back,” a collaboration with Fat Joe that spans her Terror Squad beginnings with late MC Big Pun and 2016’s Grammy Award-nominated banger “All the Way Up.”

Jhene Aiko
9:15 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
The singer is among a new wave of contemporary R&B artists cutting through narcotic beats and hazy keyboard washes with near-whispered, meandering vocal lines delivering vulnerable, melancholic takes on emotional crises. Aiko repeats the success of unavoidable megahits like “The Worst” on her latest single “Hello Ego.”

Mary J. Blige
10:15 p.m., Mainstage
Inarguably titled the “queen of hip-hop soul” with landmark albums What’s the 411? and My Life, the distinction undermines her success beyond the genre, with a career spanning 13 studio albums and acclaimed film and TV appearances. Her latest album is 2017’s Strength of a Woman, on which she embraces a personal purging with her take on slow jams.


7:30 p.m., Mainstage
The New Orleans resident enlisted local musicians to join her live band following the release of A Seat at the Table, including Jeremy Phipps and Khris Royal appearing alongside the singer on her acclaimed Saturday Night Live performance.

Sir the Baptist
7:40 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
2017’s Saint or Sinner immediately transports you to the here and now on church-like opener “Prayers on a Picket Sign”: “I hear Trump treating everyone like black folks / Welcome to the march, with police horses and gas smoke.” What follows are ecstatic hymns, gospel-sized rap and a preacher with a message of love in Sir the Baptist’s view of a damned world.

BJ the Chicago Kid
7:45 p.m., Essence Superlounge
BJ the Chicago Kid’s meditative neo-soul meets powerhouse MCs Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and Big K.R.I.T. on BJ’s 2016 major-label debut In My Mind.

Master P feat. Mystikal, Silkk and Mia X
9:30 p.m., Mainstage
Master P presides over a No Limit Records reunion, bringing together some of the legendary label’s biggest names from its heyday.

Chance the Rapper
11:20 p.m., Mainstage
After releasing one of the greatest rap albums of the decade, 2016’s jubilant Coloring Book, Chance the Rapper secured Best Rap Album at the 2017 Grammy Awards, the first self-released, streaming-only album ever to win a Grammy.

Essence conferences

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center
10 a.m-6 p.m Friday-Sunday
Free admission

Essence hosts several celebrity guest speakers at its Path to Power conference, Essence Empowerment seminars and Beauty and Style expo. All are free with online registration. Here are a few schedule highlights.


“Strength of a Woman”: Mary J Blige, Niecy Nash and others join a discussion moderated by Tamron Hall
Empowerment Stage
4:25 p.m.-5:15 p.m.


Mayors Panel: Mitch Landrieu, Sharon Broome of Baton Rouge and Catherine E. Push of Baltimore speak
Empowerment Stage
12:05 p.m.-12:35 p.m.

Michael Eric Dyson: Keynote address
Empowerment Stage
1:40 p.m.-2 p.m.

Iyanla Vanzant: Keynote address
Empowerment Stage
4:25 p.m.-5:25 p.m.


“Songversation”: India.Arie
Empowerment Stage
11:35 p.m.-11:55 p.m.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome

Friday, June 30

6:50 p.m. Rhonda Ross
7:40 p.m. Afrika Mamas
8 p.m. Junior
8:15 p.m. India.Arie
9:20 p.m. John Legend
10:40 p.m. Diana Ross

Hot Right Now Superlounge
7:20 p.m. Moses Sumney
8:30 p.m. Gallant
9:45 p.m. Goldlink

Now Playing Superlounge
7:25 p.m. Yuna
8:30 p.m. Ro James
9:40 p.m. Heels Over Head
10:40 p.m. Afrosoul

Essence Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Emily Estefan
8:35 p.m. PJ Morton
9:45 p.m. Doug E. Fresh

For the Love of R&B Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Coline Creuzot
8:05 p.m. MC Lyte
9:10 p.m. Kelly Price

Saturday, July 1

6:50 p.m. Ari Lennox
7:30 p.m. Monica
8:20 p.m. Jazmine Sullivan
9:10 p.m. Jill Scott
10:15 p.m. Mary J. Blige
11:30 p.m. Chaka Khan

Hot Right Now Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Miche’le
8:55 p.m. Teyana Taylor

Now Playing Superlounge
8 p.m. Lizzo
9:15 p.m. Jhene Aiko

Essence Superlounge
7:40 p.m. PJ
8:50 Remy Ma

For the Love of R&B Superlounge
7:50 p.m. The Jones Girls featuring Shirley Jones
9 p.m. Lalah Hathaway

Sunday, July 2

6:50 p.m. Ithwasa Lekhansela
7:30 p.m. Solange
8:20 p.m. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue
9:30 p.m. Master P featuring Mystikal, Silkk and Mia X
11:20 p.m. Chance the Rapper

Hot Right Now Superlounge
7:40 p.m. Sir the Baptist
8:35 p.m. June’s Diary
9:45 p.m. Elle Varner

Now Playing Superlounge
7:35 p.m. Mayah Dyson
8:20 p.m. Daley
9:25 p.m. Shaggy

Essence Superlounge
7:45 p.m. BJ the Chicago Kid
9 p.m. Xscape

For the Love of R&B Superlounge
7:30 p.m. Chloe X Halle
8:15 p.m. Tweet
9:40 p.m. Leela James

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