Prince Leads an All-Star Lineup at the Essence Music Festival 

The Purple One, along with Mary J. Blige, the Roots and Nas, will take the stage in New Orleans at one of black music’s most important festivals.


It seems fitting that the Essence Festival—which has hosted and broken some of the biggest names in black music for the past 20 years—would have the man who at one point was so big that he used only a symbol as his moniker to headline the 20th-anniversary installment of the three-day musical free-for-all.

The Purple One, aka Purple Majesty, aka that symbol that looks like a cross made from a downward pointing arrow and a curvy trumpet, aka Prince, is headlining the 20th anniversary of the musical extension of the magazine that is arguably considered the African-American woman’s bible.

Known locally as the Essence Fest and begun in 1995, the music festival was originally slated to be a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the literary component.

Not only has the festival become a musical juggernaut, but after 20 years of successfully cranking out some of the best acts, it’s safe to say that the Essence Festival is also a black-music mainstay.

Below are the can’t-miss shows and the little-known artists poised to become breakout stars:

Thursday, July 3

Big Fish: The main stage will play host to Nas (10:50 p.m.), who forever changed the hip-hop landscape after he spit his first verse on Main Source’s 1991 classic Live at the Barbecue.” Some 20 years later, the Queens, N.Y.-born MC still owns the game.  

Middle Fish: Singer-turned-reality-TV-villain-turned-singer K. Michelle will also grace the main stage (8:45 p.m.) to belt out her pro-women ballads “V.S.O.P” and “Can’t Raise a Man.”

Little Fish: Jesse Boykins III has crazy hair and makes what he calls “world soul.” Having dropped a series of singles, the Chicago-born artist finally released Love Apparatus at the end of April. Boykins’ music will creep into your soul and his friends are cooler than yours.

Friday, July 4