Essence Fest Kicks Off Thursday with Youth Acts

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  • NEW ORLEANS (AP) — One of the premier music festivals celebrating black culture and music is branching out, extending its footprint in its 18th year to embrace the next generation of artists while still trumpeting industry veterans such as Aretha Franklin.

    The Essence Music Festival has added a fourth day to its concert series in New Orleans. On Thursday — its opening day — Essence will focus solely on youth, including rapper Diggy Simmons, the Disney Channel's Coco Jones, the OMG Girlz and New Orleans' own The Roots of Music.

    Essence runs through Sunday with performances set for the Superdome.

    "I've never been, but I know it's important," said 14-year-old Coco, who was discovered on the Disney Channel's "Next Big Thing" and starred in its TV musical movie "Let It Shine," which aired last month.

    Coco will debut music from her yet-to-be-named album due out next year. She plans to deliver a high-energy show packed with tight choreography and some theatrical elements.

    "I'm excited for everybody to see it," she said. "Sometimes just singing alone can be boring, but when you have dancers, and B-boys and flipping, it adds so much excitement to the show."

    On Sunday, the Queen of Soul will be crowned with the Essence "Power Award" for four decades of hits including "Respect," ''I Say a Little Prayer," ''Chain of Fools," ''Think" and "Son of a Preacher Man."

    "She said she's going to sing it all, from A to Z," said Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks. "This Sunday night will be, we believe, an electric celebration."

    Essence has been held every Independence Day weekend since its inception in 1995, when it marked the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine. Among the big names expected to perform this weekend are Mary J. Blige; Chaka Khan; Trey Songz and D'Angelo, who last month made his first live performance in the United States in 12 years at Bonnaroo as he makes a comeback.

    Coco said she's grateful for the new youth-focused day and the opportunity to learn from veterans in an industry that can be a lot like a game of Chutes and Ladders: "You can shoot up to the top or in a minute have a pitfall and slide right down to the bottom. A lot of people make one mistake that ends their careers."

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