Essence Fest Preview

00:00 June 26, 2012
By: Kristal Blue



Vanessa & Helen Williams

Empowerment Seminars

When Vanessa Williams was forced to surrender her 1984 miss america crown over a handful of racy pictures taken during her college years, the first african-american woman to be so honored didn't simply slink off into the sunset and disappear. instead, she quickly put the past behind her and went on to become one of the most respected and multi-faceted entertainers in the world. Over the past quarter century she has conquered the musical charts, Broadway, television and motion pictures and the music video market. in the late `80s, she had a string of top-selling albums and hit singles, including "just for Tonight," "Save the Best for Last," "Running Back to You" and a Billboard R&Branked-number-three cover version of the isley Brothers' "Work to Do." On Broadway she was cast into Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1994, and from the `90s to the present, she has been in half a dozen feature films and numerous TV shows and individual series episodes, including "Ugly Betty" and "Desperate Housewives."

Her mother, Helen Williams, is a former adjunct professor at manhattanville College School of Education who taught in the Ossining (nY) Public Schools as a vocal music educator for 37 years. Over the past 10 years, she has received numerous prestigious awards and honors. She co-wrote Vanessa's memoir, "YOU HaVE nO iDEa: a Famous Daughter, Her no-nonsense mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)." The seminar is free and open to the public. —Dean m. Shapiro

Gary clark Jr.

Coca-Cola Superlounge

An uplifting talent coming out of austin, Texas, Gary Clark jr., has been deemed as one of the resurrecting saviors of the blues, blending a variety of rock 'n' roll and soul into his performances. Clark's Texas-rockscene upbringing, which includes performance opportunities with guitarists such as jimmie Vaughan, shines through on every lick. He allows the guitar to groan through high-pitched drones that define the raw power many relate to with his distinctive sound. now, after releasing his newest EP and single Bright Light in 2011, the energetic musician has been gaining much popularity, and by playing at events such as the 2012 jazz and Heritage Festival, the Cross Roads Guitar Festival and the Bonnaroo music and arts Festival, Clark has become somewhat of a seasoned veteran to big crowds. Yet, his enthusiasm still wows crowds along with critics all over the nation. Having been compared with such greats as jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, the young blues guitarist is set out to newly define a contemporary approach to rock, blues, and soul music. He will be sharing that approach at this year`s annual Essence music Festival at the Ford Superlounge. Prepare to be blown away. —Chris DiBendetto


Big Sam's Funky Nation

Ford Superlounge

Making people from everywhere dance all around, the locally-loved urban funk group Big Sam's Funky nation, is taking on another festival crowd in their home town to make them jiggle, shake and have a really fun weekend. The band engages every crowd, tossing them into their hallmark big band funk sound that includes a full fourpiece band along with a powerful horn front led by slide trombonist, Big Sam Williams. Having formerly played with such groups as The Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the age of 19, Big Sam has been acknowledged as one of the most prominent trombonists in the city. Combining an addicting supply of melodic horn melodies, heart-thumping solos, and cool vocal lines has made his Funky nation truly come alive to spur on a world of fans following the evermore popular group. They radiate energy at every show and never fail to play crowd favorites that include songs upon request, since their enormous song bank is filled to the brim with new Orleans influenced power funk. improvisation is thrown into the pot along with a rock sensibility that makes the band reach across genres with and between different songs, guiding the audience on a roller coaster of music that dips, dives and makes you scream for more.—Chris DiBendetto

The Stylistics

Verizon Wireless Superlounge

In the early to mid-1970s, when R&B was "goin' funky" and evolving into other brand names, there were still a few vocal groups that stayed true to the gospel-influenced styling that watered the earliest roots of the genre. Foremost among those groups was The Stylistics. Hailing from Philadelphia, they were among the leading exponents of what came to be known as the Philly Sound (or Philly Soul), a style characterized by slow, romantic ballads backed by lush studio orchestration. Founded in 1968, the group struggled for a couple of years, then they came under the mentorship of renowned producer Thom Bell and award-winning lyricist Linda Creed at Avco Records. With this legendary partnership in their corner, The Stylistics evolved into one of the bestselling soul groups ever. The quintet (later a quartet) recorded a dozen straight Top 10 hits during the early 1970s, including "You Are Everything," "You Make Me Feel Brand New," "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "Break Up to Make Up," "I'm Stone in Love with You," "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)" and many others. Originally centered around the soaring falsetto of lead singer Russell Thompkins Jr., who left the group in 2000, The Stylistics now consist of original members Airron Love and Herbie Murrell, plus Jason Sharpe and lead singer Harold Eban Brown, formerly of The Delfonics, another Philly Soul group from the Bell-Creed stable. —Dean M. Shapiro

Sunday, July 8

Aretha Franklin

Main Stage

The Queen of Soul herself has decided to revive any somber spirit in our great city at this year's Essence Music Festival with her distinctive voice that has captured the hearts of the world for generations. Beginning her singing career in her father's church about 50 years ago as a gospel singer, Franklin quickly started recording at the age of 14. Since then, she has amazed half a century's worth of fans with a never-ending list of hits such as "Respect," and soul filled renditions of popular songs like "The Weight," originally written and performed by The Band. Still, Franklin is now finding herself to be honored into the Gospel Hall of Fame in August of this year and is also newly engaged to longtime partner Willie Wilkerson, a fact many dedicated fans have been enthused about. May of 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the Queen's first non-gospel self-titled album, Aretha, on which date she released her 38th studio release titled A Woman Falling Out of Love, which included duets from longtime friend Ronald Isley of The Isley Brothers. Known for her charm and natural ability to entertain any crowd with her warm essence, Aretha Franklin is sure to provide another breathtaking performance at this year`s festival like her last performance in 2005. She'll be playing on the main stage and will also receive the "Power Award" to celebrate The Power of Our Voices during the festival weekend. —Chris DiBendetto


Verizon Wireless Superlounge

The Pitbull in a skirt is back after a nearly decade-long hiatus! The Ruff Ryder's First Lady is set to release a new album this year with songs that will encompass her original claim to fame as a rapper, and pay special attention to her vocal skills as well. The artist has said that her as-of-yet-untitled album will be well-rounded with "enough of the hard street stuff" to bring home her core audience, but also incorporate "some radio stuff" and softer tunes "that people can listen to when they're feeling down." Eve previously climbed the charts with singles like "What Ya Want," "Who's That Girl" and "Let Me Blow Ya Mind"— the Grammy-winning collaboration with eccentric pop singer Gwen Stefani. Eve's first three albums sold more than eight million copies worldwide. The artist also has a successful clothing line, Fetish, and has been featured in movies such as Barbershop and Barbershop 2, and more recently, Whip It. Cross your fingers, longtime fans—her newest addition is scheduled for this fall. —Kimberly Hopson

Read more previews at

Sign Up!