Nicci Gilbert singing a tribute to Whitney Houston

*Wow, it has definitely been a busy, fulfilling and fun weekend with Essence. New Orleans sure knows how to party, eat, and play.

Let’s start off with the wonderful breakfast at the legendary Dooky Chase restaurant, hosted by Verizon Wireless. First of all, it was great. The food was wonderful and the service was first class. And can you believe the owners, are in their 90s and still work the kitchen like their 40s.

Roland Martin, Leah Chase, Marvin Sapp and Laz Alonso

As part of the Verizon’s Celebrating Your Story and Empowering Your Network initiative, Laz Alonso and Marvin Sapp shared their stories of struggle and success.

Beginning with a powerful introduction of the campaign, Krista Bourne, president of the Gulf Region for Verizon, explained that the company is providing a platform to help communities rebuild and strengthen stories within.

Laz Alonso

The actor, who also hosted the 365Black Awards by McDonald’s spoke of his the divine power working in his own life. After one door was closed on his face, another, bigger and better one opened up. It was meant to be.

Marvin Sapp

Pastor Sapp, who has been some traumatic changes in the past two years, testified that sharing his story has been a total blessing and has helped heal him from the darkest moments in his life.

Since his wife, MaLinda, passed away after losing the battle against colon cancer, he’s now a full time single dad, raising three wonderful children on his own. He said, “I’m going down aisles in the grocery store I never had to go down before.”

The Gospel singer has two girls and a boy.

Let’s just skip right down to dessert – the concert. Jam packed with great music, great shows, and a banging closer, it was the day to be at Essence Fest.

Eve photo courtesy of Rap-Up

Carl Thomas rocked the McDonald’s Superlounge, along with Melanie Fiona. Raheem Devaughn got busy at the Ford stage and Estelle did her thang at the CocaCola lounge. Eve brought it when she performed her classics like “Who’s That Girl” and “Love is Blind” at the Verizon Wireless Superlounge, twice in the same night.

The main stage was a party from the beginning.

Kirk Franklin made it happen with all of his energy on stage. It was definitely felt throughout the Superdome. No one was in his or her seats. Fantasia and Anthony Hamilton wooed the crowd with soulful lyrics and a wonderful performance. And then the two ladies everyone was waiting for… Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan.

Aretha Franklin photo courtesy of al.com

Aretha was no joke. She came out in her diva fashion, long, flowing orange dress and all. She had to bust out the classics like “Chain of Fools,” “Natural Woman” for all the ladies without a weave (jk) “ and so many more. Throughout her performance, however, she did have a few interruptions with bouts of irritation from the sound and other little technical issues.

But that didn’t keep the show from going on of course. Essence honored the legendary singer with a Power Award.

Chaka Khan photo courtesy of SheSoMajor.com

Chaka strutted her newly petite self onstage like she owned it, singing songs like “I’m Every Woman,” “What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me” and “Sweet Thing.” The atmosphere was like electricity. Chaka looks good, sounds good, and feels good. Her performance was great. Everyone was shaking something.

Oh wait, there’s more. Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Keke Wyatt, Syleena Johnson and Monifah Carter collaborated for a surprise tribute performance for all the fallen divas.

Overall it was a great weekend with a lot of surprises, great music, unusual performance, and terrible fashion… but that’s a whole ‘nother post. Looking forward to an even better Essence Fest 2013.