Comedien, author and radio personality Steve Harvey entertains concergoers

*New Orleans, LA — Known as “The Party With A Purpose,” the Essence Music Festival has become the largest and most influential African American family festival & empowerment conference and concert in the world.  And the 2010 version did not disappoint the thousands of concertgoers who poured into the Big Easy from July 2-4, 2010.

The Coca-Cola Polar Bear was the star attraction at the kick-off press conference that was attended by Essence president Michelle Ebanks; New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu; Coca-Cola Company senior vice president, and chair, The Coca-Cola Foundation, Ingrid Saunders Jones; and Essence editor-in-chief Angela Burt-Murray.  This year’s festival also celebrated Essence magazine’s 40th anniversary.

The Coca Cola Polar Bear is featured with (left to right) Michelle Ebanks, Mitch Landrieu, Ingrid Saunders and Angela Burt-Murray (Photo by Brad Barket/The Picture Group)

The weekend-long spectacular – which has become an American tradition – prided itself in harvesting three of the most exciting and exhilarating female singers in entertainment -– Janet Jackson, Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige — who each headlined a nightly concert.

Throughout the weekend, EMF guests attended free daily seminars featuring some of the biggest names in entertainment and the nation’s most influential speakers, artists, authors and leaders in the cavernous Convention Center.

In the evening concertgoers packed the Superdome for three nights of entertainment hosted by “Nephew Tommy” from the number one rated syndicated radio show, The Steve Harvey Morning Show.  Steve Harvey joined his nephew at the Saturday evening musical performances.

Sexy Janet Jackson and her dynamic dancers bring sexy back to Essence Music Festival

Although it may have been her first appearance ever at the festival, Ms. Jackson turned it out!  Her explosive show was the talk of the town.  “Better than fireworks” exclaimed one beaming concertgoer.  A fierce and provocatively dressed Jackson opened her much anticipated show with “The Pleasure Principle” featuring her 12 sexily clad dancers performing like their lives depended on it.  They were incredible!

Jackson performed many of her smash hits including “What Have You Done for Me Lately,” “Miss You Much,” “All For You,” “Nothing,” “Let’s Wait a While,” “Again,” “Black Cat,” “Nasty” and “Rhythm Nation.”

The audience stood for most of the show not wanting to miss one beat.  And she gave them just what they came for when she turned up the voluptuous volume during her sexual performance of “Any Time Any Place” in which she pulled a male concertgoer from the audience and performed a tease that included whips, chains and his face in her cleavage.

The scantily clad beauty whipped the audience into a sexual frenzy setting off enough sexual energy to start another sexual revolution.  The sassy singer brought the sexy back to the Superdome.

Jackson ended her memorable show with her smash hit “Together Again” using a photo montage of her and her brother Michael on the screen, changing the lyrics to reflect the depth of her loss: “Everywhere I go, every smile I see, I know you’re there, smiling back at me.”  The newer version had a more personal meaning that featured another display of flawless heart and choreography.

Earth Wind & Fire bring Essence Music Festival to a climatic close

Other standout acts included old-school performances by iconic performers Gladys Knight and Charlie Wilson that were real crowd pleasers.  Monica’s engaging performance solidified that she was a main stage act.  As usual, Alicia Keys gave a stunning performance — fall and all.  LL Cool J made a smooth appearance.

Veteran EMF performers Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott handed in “smack your mama” flawless performances.  Keri Hilson’s sensuous performance with El Debarge was a knockout.  Likewise Blige’s effortless performance with T.I. and Trey Songz that “shut it down!“ Raphael Saadiq brought his own soulful brand to the stage.

Although Rock & Roll hall of famers Earth, Wind & Fire were all fired up as this year’s closing act, concertgoers felt that they were no replacement for Frankie Beverly & Maze, who had the distinction of closing out the festival for the past 15 years.  Need I say more?

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieau gives a gift to entertainer/educator Dr. Bill Cosby before the keynote address during the African American Education Summit at the 2010 EMF (Photo by Chuck Cook)

Playing the superlounges and leaving impressive images on concertgoers were: Chrisette Michele, Irma Thomas, Arrested Development, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Mary Mary, Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, WAR, Little Freddie King, Ruben Studdard, Laura Izibor, Sam & Ruby, De La Soul, Mint Condition, Leo Jackson & Melody Clouds, Joe, Rebirth Brass Band, Soul Rebels Brass Band. Estelle, Hot 8 Brass Band, Lalah Hathaway, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Shamarr Allen and The Underdawgs, Melanie Fiona, PJ Morton Band and Kermit Ruffins & the BBQ Swingers.

The EMF was executive produced by Essence Festivals LLC and produced by Rehage Entertainment.  Coca-Cola was the presenting sponsor for the 2010 EMF.  Major sponsors included Coors Light, CoverGirl Queen, Ford, McDonald’s, Olay, Pantene, Tide, U.S. Army and Walmart.  Official sponsors included AARP, CNN, HBO, My Black is Beautiful, TBS, TVOne and VISA.  (Photos by Jennifer Cooper and Aaron J.)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.