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Essence Essentials

The Essence Music Festival presents the legends and legends-to-be of soul, R&B and jazz.

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When a festival has the Queen of Soul and The College Dropout, it has a lot going for it. This year's Essence Music Festival features Aretha Franklin and Kanye West, along with Alicia Keyes, Black Eyed Peas and local favorites ReBirth Brass Band. The Superlounges present everything from the conscious hip-hop of Talib Kweli to the old-school soul of the Aubry Twins. Meanwhile, some of the biggest names in music grace the Louisiana Superdome's Main Stage, few bigger than Destiny's Child, whose appearance Saturday will be part of Byoncé and Company's farewell tour. By the time Frankie Beverly and Maze again wrap it all up, Essence will have completed a tour of R&B's past, present and future.

Friday, July 1

Ruben Studdard
7 p.m., Main Stage

He's the man from the 205 — Birmingham, if you will — the Velvet Teddy Bear and one of the most beloved winners of FOX's American Idol contest. Ruben Studdard started singing at his parents' Baptist church, but he didn't get serious about music until college. Soulful (J Records), his 2003 debut, is a collection of R&B songs that shows his debt to his own American idol, Luther Vandross. Studdard's sophomore effort, I Need an Angel (J Records), tackles contemporary gospel with equal skill. R. Kelly wrote and produced the title track.

ReBirth Brass Band
8 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

This New Orleans brass band has become an institution through persistence and invention, giving the genre a hip, street-based style. Throwback (Basin Street), ReBirth's recent album with Kermit Ruffins, recalls the days when the band formed in the early '90s, but 2004's ReBirth for Life (Tipitina's) shows where the group is now, incorporating rap and hip-hop culture into a mix of traditional and contemporary jazz designed first and foremost to rock a party.

John Legend
8:10 p.m., Main Stage

The young neo-soul singer and pianist doesn't believe in false modesty; he changed his last name from Stephens to Legend before releasing his first album. The Ohio native was a child prodigy and soaked up the sounds of Philly soul while in college. After graduating, he made his mark in New York City as a studio musician for Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Janet Jackson. Get Lifted (Sony), his first album, features gospel-tinged soul over a hip-hop beat, as well as the infectious hit single, "Ordinary People."

The Aubry Twins
8:15 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Tyrone and Jerome Aubry are New Orleans musical veterans. They started singing in local talent shows when they were 8, and they recorded their first single at 12. They released records on the Chase label throughout the '60s, along the way sharing stages with some of the biggest names in R&B history.

G. La Beaud
8:15 p.m., Essence Superlounge

Last year's On the G (Ruff Child/Louisiana Red Hot) marked producer-arranger G. La Beaud's debut as a front person. He dubbed his debut album "baby-making music from New Orleans," and he didn't lie. These slow jams deal with love, though you get the feeling the bedroom is on his mind, no matter what he is singing.

Lyfe Jennings
8:15 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Lyfe perfected his "alternative rhythm and blues" style while serving time in an Ohio prison. After his release in 2002, Lyfe recorded a four-song demo on his second day of freedom. On the third day, he performed at a club. Since then, he hasn't slowed down. On Lyfe 268-192 (Sony), he mixes folk, R&B and hip-hop with a vocal sound influenced by Sam Cooke and Al Green.

Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick
9:30 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

It will be an old-school throwback when Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick take the stage. Fresh is the undisputed master of the human beatbox, spinning out funky beats with just his mouth and a microphone. Rick defined pimp style in the late 1980s with his flashy dress and hits like "Treat Her Like a Prostitute." Slick Rick is a master storyteller, but his career was temporarily derailed after he was convicted of attempted murder.

Alicia Keys
9:40 p.m., Main Stage
Alicia Keys is only 23 years old, but she already has an old soul. She took up piano at age 7 and wrote her first song at 14. Songs in A Minor (J Records) was an impressive debut with its mixture of jazz, R&B, hip-hop and classical music. The album also paved the way for other soulful female singers with solid piano chops such as Norah Jones and Nelly Furtado. Her 2003 follow-up, Diary of Alicia Keys (J Records), confirmed that Keys is a talent to watch in the coming years.

Bobby Blue Bland
9:45 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Bobby Blue Bland is truly a blues legend. The 74-year-old Bland came out of the 1950s Memphis blues scene, where he founded the Beale Streeters with B.B. King and Johnny Ace. Over the years, he created a personal style that is equal parts blues and soul. His recent live album Blues at Midnight (Malaco) proves that Bland's powerful, gospel-inflected vocals are still strong.

Vivian Green
9:45 p.m., Essence Superlounge

Vivian Green was born into the sounds of Philly soul, growing up in a musical household. By age 11, she was writing music. Two years later, she joined her first band, a girl group named Younique. The singer and songwriter got her big break when Jill Scott hired her as a backup singer. Green's music places her squarely in the field of hot, young neo-soul singers that includes Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and her former boss, Jill Scott. This summer, Green released her second album, Vivian (Sony).

The Roots
9:45 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Breakout commercial success has eluded the Roots. Many critics, however, consider this hip-hop band one of the best live acts in the business. The Philadelphia-based group prefers live music to DJs, and it draws the audience into jazz-tinged jams with call-and-response vocals. The Tipping Point (Geffen), the Roots' most recent album, began as a series of jams and captures the spirit of the group in concert.

Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick
11 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

It will be an old school throwback when Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick take the stage. Fresh is the undisputed master of the human beatbox, spinning out funky beats with just his mouth and a microphone. Rick defined pimp style in the late 1980s with his flashy dress and hits like "Treat Her Like a Prostitute." Rick is a master storyteller, but his career was temporarily derailed after he was convicted of attempted murder.

Bobby Blue Bland
11:10 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Bobby Blue Bland is truly a blues legend. The 74-year-old Bland came out of the 1950s Memphis blues scene, where he founded the Beale Streeters with B.B. King and Johnny Ace. Over the years, he created a personal style that is equal parts blues and soul. His recent live album Blues at Midnight (Malaco) proves that Bland's powerful, gospel-inflected vocals continue to be strong.

Aretha Franklin
11:25 p.m., Main Stage

The Queen of Soul needs no introduction. Nearly 50 years ago, Aretha Franklin made her recording debut at the age of 14. Her work for Atlantic records in the 1960s produced a string of hits — "Respect," "Chain of Fools" and "I Say a Little Prayer" — that became icons of the era. In the 1980s, Franklin went pop with hits such as "Who's Zooming Who," but Jazz Moods (Sony), her latest release, shows another side of her prodigious talent as it collects recordings of standards she made between 1962 and 1969.

Vivian Green
11:25 p.m., Essence Superlounge
Vivian Green was born into the sounds of Philly soul, growing up in a musical household. By age 11, she was writing music. Two years later, she joined her first band, a girl group named Younique. The singer and songwriter got her big break when Jill Scott hired her as a backup singer. Green's music places her squarely in the field of hot, young neo-soul singers that includes Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and her former boss, Jill Scott. This summer, Green released her second album Vivian (Sony).

The Roots
11:25 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Breakout commercial success has eluded the Roots. Many critics, however, consider this hip-hop band one of the best live acts in the business. The Philadelphia-based group prefers live music to DJs, and it draws the audience into jazz-tinged jams with call-and-response vocals. The Tipping Point (Geffen), the Roots' most recent album, began as a series of jams and captures the spirit of the group in concert.

Saturday, July 2

Fantasia
7 p.m., Main Stage

The high-energy Fantasia won the 2004 American Idol competition by making classic material her own. She watched her first single "I Believe" debut at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. It was a great birthday present for the 20-year-old single mother, who has since made news with the controversial "Baby Mama." On Free Yourself (J Records), Fantasia's first album, she lends her powerful vocals to a collection of Idol -like covers and original tunes by Missy Elliot, Jermaine Dupri and Rodney Jerkins.

Don Carter
8 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

Washington, D.C., native Don Carter's musical awakening came when he first saw Chuck Brown, the father of the city's influential go-go scene. As a young drummer, Carter started emulating those beats, and then in school he took up the trumpet. While attending the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts, he met Wynton Marsalis, who recommended that he study jazz at University of New Orleans. While there, he started writing his own music and recorded Ghetto Swing , his fusion of go-go, jazz and hip-hop.

Euricka
8 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Euricka is finishing her first album, Down South (independent), and its first single, "Crunk," features a guest spot by Juvenile. It's pop R&B with a bounce groove, and at Jazz Fest this year, she went from material like that — complete with dancers — to Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You."

Teena Marie
8:10 p.m., Main Stage

Teena Marie was working in the offices of Motown Records when she met Rick James. He became her lover and mentor, and in 1979, they topped the charts with the duet "I'm Just a Sucker for Your Love." Without a photo on the single, few listeners guessed that the big-voiced R&B singer was actually white. In 1984, she crossed over to the pop charts with "Lovergirl." After a decade away from the studio,Marie released La Dona (Cash Money Classics) last year, an album as strong as any that she recorded in her glory days.

Gordon Chambers
8:15 p.m., Essence Superlounge

Jamaican-born Gordon Chambers is a prolific R&B songwriter who has been at it since age 7, penning hits for Anita Baker ("I Apologize") and Brownstone ("If You Love Me") as well as Aretha Franklin, Queen Latifah, Brandy, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, and Marc Anthony. His debut album, Introducing Gordon Chambers (Chamber Music), is an elegant affair that drapes his classic R&B tunes in smooth-jazz arrangements.

DJ Lady Fingaz
8:15 p.m., Coke Superlounge

DJ Lady Fingaz has received a lot of acclaim quickly, being named Best Emerging Hip-Hop Artist of 2004 by OffBeat for her work on The Humid Sounds of Media Darling Records (Media Darling). She spent the last year DJing in clubs and backing rappers and spent much of this spring with the Media Darling artists on tour with Galactic.

Mint Condition
9:30 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

This Minneapolis-based group has gone to school on local hero Prince's eclecticism. Its latest CD, Livin' the Luxury Brown (Image), alternates funk jams like "Mintrolude" with the silky-smooth ballads "I'm Ready" and "Love Your Tears" and the cooing emotional support of "My Sista." The group, which dates back to the end of the 1980s, should also sing the hits — "Pretty Brown Eyes," "U Send Me Swingin'" and "What Kind of Man Would I Be."

DJ Captain Charles
9:15 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

DJ Captain Charles is the leading old school R&B DJ in New Orleans, rocking parties around town regularly, as well as special events like the Krewe of Zulu's ball and previous Essence festivals.

Floetry
9:45 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Floetry hails from England, but the neo-soul duo has found more success in the U.S. than in the U.K. Their sound is classy and suave, with Marsha Ambrosius singing and Natalie Stewart rapping. They cut their teeth writing songs for Bilal, Jill Scott, Glenn Lewis and Michael Jackson, and their most recent release, Floacism "Live" (Dreamworks), captures the duo in concert at the New Orleans House of Blues.

The Spirit Music Jamia with Me'Shell Ndegeocello
9:45 p.m., Essence Superlounge

This groundbreaking musical experience combines the creative impulses of two of the most distinctive young musicians working out of the jazz/world music scene, bassist/vocalist Me'Shell Ndegocello and saxophonist Joshua Redman. The two recorded Dance of the Infidels (Shanachie), but due to Redman's touring schedule in support of his new Momentum (Nonesuch), he is replaced on tour by New York saxophonist Oliver Lake in what is sure to be one of the highlights of this year's Essence Festival.

Kanye West
9:50 p.m., Main Stage

Kanye West's superior beatmaking skills made him a favorite producer of Jay-Z and other top rappers. His witty, low-key rap style dominated the radio in 2004 as "Through the Wire" and "Slow Jamz" went into heavy rotation. West, whose debut The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella) was released last year, walked into the 2005 Grammy Awards with 10 nominations. He walked out with three wins, including Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song. He recently produced Common's excellent Be and will release his second album, Late Registration , in August.

Jeffrey Osborne
10:45 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

One of the two Essence Festival acts that sang on "We Are the World" (Lionel Richie was there, too), Osborne is a slick R&B veteran whose powerful voice dates back to his work with LTD in the 1970s. He never fails to remind the crowd of his days with that band via the hit "Stranger." Osborne left the scene around the time new jack swing hit hard and has had a difficult time regaining his touch on a pair of comeback albums, but his classic sound always serves him well.

Mint Condition
11 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

This Minneapolis-based group has gone to school on local hero Prince's eclecticism. Its latest CD, Livin' the Luxury Brown (Image), alternates funk jams like "Mintrolude" with the silky-smooth ballads "I'm Ready" and "Love Your Tears" and the cooing emotional support of "My Sista." The group, which dates back to the end of the 1980s, should also sing the hits — "Pretty Brown Eyes," "U Send Me Swingin'" and "What Kind of Man Would I Be."

Destiny's Child
11:15 p.m., Main Stage

Destiny's Child dominated the R&B charts in the late-1990s and made Beyoncé Knowles a mega-star. Knowles and LaTavia Roberson were 9-year-olds when they met at an audition. Knowles' father, who saw the seeds of a hit machine, dubbed them Destiny's Child and guided the girls, who were soon joined by Kelendria "Kelly" Rowland and LeToya Luckett, to national fame. In 2000, the group underwent a nasty split followed by a string of lawsuits. After the remaining trio recorded a series of solo albums, it looked like the end, but they regrouped in 2004 to record Destiny Fulfilled (Sony). The title, however, proved telling as Destiny's Child recently announced that it would disband after the current tour.

Floetry
11:25 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Floetry hails from England, but the neo-soul duo has found more success in the U.S. than in the U.K. Their sound is classy and suave, with Marsha Ambrosius singing and Natalie Stewart rapping. They cut their teeth writing songs for Bilal, Jill Scott, Glenn Lewis and Michael Jackson, and their most recent release, Floacism "Live" (Dreamworks), captures the duo in concert at the New Orleans House of Blues.

The Spirit Music Jamia with Me'Shell Ndegeocello
11:25 p.m., Essence Superlounge

This groundbreaking musical experience combines the creative impulses of two of the most distinctive young musicians working out of the jazz/world music scene, bassist/vocalist Me'Shell Ndegocello and saxophonist Joshua Redman. The two recorded Dance of the Infidels (Shanachie), but due to Redman's touring schedule in support of his new Momentum (Nonesuch), he is replaced on tour by New York saxophonist Oliver Lake in what is sure to be one of the highlights of this year's Essence Festival.

Sunday, July 3

Kem
7 p.m., Main Stage

Kem's adult contemporary vibe evokes a languid attitude redolent of empty tropical beaches and imported beer commercials. Far from the hectic realities of the Detroit streets he grew up on, Kem's music is a laconic tonic for troubled minds. The keyboardist/vocalist was a successful wedding singer before signing with Motown, which released Kemistry and Kem Album II . Kem now uses the techniques he learned as a weekend warrior to put over material like his conversation with God, "Each Other."

Jhelisa
8 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

Jhelisa has made her reputation in New Orleans for her soulful, sultry interpretations of Nina Simone songs, but her performance at Jazz Fest earlier this year showed her to be a daring, outspoken performer as well. She is backed by some of the best jazz/R&B musicians on the Frenchmen Street scene.

Ronald Reggae & Evolution Band featuring Lady Blondie
8 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Ronald "Reggae" Claiborne has been playing reggae in New Orleans since 1985, having spent much of that time with the city's pre-eminent reggae band, the Revealers. He is working on his fourth album, which will be out in the fall.

Terence Blanchard
8:15 p.m., Essence Superloung

eNew Orleans jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard is coming off one of the finest records of his career, Flow (Blue Note), a beautifully balanced set that showcases Blanchard's talents as one of the finest sonic architects of his generation. Those who only know Blanchard for his high-profile soundtrack work may be surprised by his mastery of tone and superbly crafted solos. On the Herbie Hancock-produced album, his band is fleshed out by Brice Winston on saxophone and Yamaha WX5, Lionel Loueke on guitar and vocals, Aaron Parks on piano, Derrick Hodge on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums.

Mary Griffin
8:15 p.m., Coke Superlounge

New Orleans native Mary Griffin has shown her warm, passionate vocal style on a number of soundtrack albums and on 2002's Purified (Curb). While touring with Patti LaBelle, she met Jaheim, who produced the single "Take a Look at Me Now" for her. He is currently working with her on an album due out later this year.

Black Eyed Peas
8:20 p.m., Main Stage

Black Eyed Peas is the hip-hop group that answers the family dinner table question, "Isn't there something we can ALL listen to?" When the grooves are this good, so what if the message is innocuous? The latest drop, Monkey Business (A&M), is an eclectic affair that includes guest shots reminiscent of a Tonight Show lineup in their variety. Justin Timberlake returns from his hit pass on the last disc, Elephunk , as well as Sting and James Brown. Female vocalist Fergie plays a larger role this time, and struts her stuff on the latest hit, "Don't Phunk With My Heart."

Talib Kweli
9:30 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

Talib Kweli may not be P. Diddy, but the rapper plies a shrewd course with an easy swinging flow that manages to court mainstream sentiments on The Beautiful Struggle (Rawkus). Its airwaves-friendly "Around My Way" is an overt cop of the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," with a guest appearance from fellow Essence fest-er John Legend. But Kweli can party, too, as he demonstrates on "We Got the Beat," and can cop an attitude like a true playa on "Back Up Offa Me."

The Wailers
9:30 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Bob Marley has been gone a long time, but the Wailers — his longtime backing band — remains a force because the band is still led by its co-founder, producer and band leader Aston "Familyman" Barrett on bass. Barrett, hand-picked by Marley to lead his backing band at the inception of his career, hired the other musicians (taught Marley to play the guitar, too) and has co-produced the albums and arranged the music ever since. Barrett, the creator of the reggae bass sound, is joined in the current lineup by keyboardist Earl "Wya" Lindo, a Wailer since 1972, and lead guitarist Al Anderson, on board since '74.

Regina Belle
9:45 p.m., Essence Superlounge

Regina Belle's latest release, Lazy Afternoon (Peak), is a roadmap to the interstices of smooth jazz and vocal R&B. Belle would like her audience to think of Billie Holiday while listening to the George Duke-produced album of pop and R&B standards, but the result lands closer to a Barbra Streisand production. Belle's career as an R&B singer dates back to 1987 and the hit "Please Be Mine," followed by ""So Many Tears" and "Without You" among others.

Carl Thomas
9:45 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Carl Thomas is a prolific hit songwriter who decided to step into the spotlight himself and scored with 2000's Emotional (Bad Boy), a neo-R&B instant classic highlighted by the Marvin Gaye-influenced "You Ain't Right" and the love-gone-wrong tearjerker "I Wish." The Chicago native's 2004 follow-up, Let's Talk About It, didn't quite live up to Emotional 's high standard, but Thomas remains a walking amalgam of old-school R&B tropes derived from such diverse sources as Donny Hathaway, Nat "King" Cole, Sting, Ray Parker Jr., Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Steely Dan, and the Clark Sisters.

Lionel Richie
9:50 p.m., Main Stage

A true pop-music veteran, Lionel Richie's career stretches back to 1967, when he co-founded the Commodores at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. After signing with Motown, the Commodores ruled in the golden era of disco with the hits "Machine Gun" and "Brick House." The Commodores also excelled on ballads like "Easy," "Three Times a Lady" and "Sail On," pointing out the direction Richie would take in his solo career. In the early '80s, he scored with the multi-platinum albums Lionel Richie , Can't Slow Down and Dancing on the Ceiling (all on Motown) before abruptly retiring. He returned in the 1990s but never regained his multi-platinum status.

Talib Kweli
11 p.m., Budweiser/Bud Light Superlounge

Talib Kweli may not be P. Diddy but the rapper plies a shrewd course with an easy swinging flow that manages to court mainstream sentiments on The Beautiful Struggle (Rawkus). Its airways-friendly "Around My Way" is an overt cop of the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic," with a guest appearance from fellow Essence fest-er John Legend. But Kweli can party, too, as he demonstrates on "We Got the Beat," and can cop an attitude like a true playa on "Back Up Offa Me."

The Wailers
11 p.m., World Blues Superlounge

Bob Marley has been gone a long time, but the Wailers — his longtime backing band — remains a force because the band is still led by its co-founder, producer and band leader Aston "Familyman" Barrett on bass. Barrett, hand-picked by Marley to lead his backing band at the inception of his career, hired the other musicians (taught Marley to play the guitar, too) and has co-produced the albums and arranged the music ever since. Barrett, the creator of the reggae bass sound, is joined in the current lineup by keyboardist Earl "Wya" Lindo, a Wailer since 1972, and lead guitarist Al Anderson, on board since '74.

Regina Belle
11:25 p.m., Essence Superlounge

Regina Belle's latest release, Lazy Afternoon (Peak), is a roadmap to the interstices of smooth jazz and vocal R&B. Belle would like her audience to think of Billie Holiday while listening to the George Duke-produced album of pop and R&B standards, but the result lands closer to a Barbra Streisand production. Belle's career as an R&B singer dates back to 1987 and the hit "Please Be Mine," followed by ""So Many Tears" and "Without You" among others.

Carl Thomas
11:25 p.m., Coke Superlounge

Carl Thomas is a prolific hit songwriter who decided to step into the spotlight himself and scored with 2000's Emotional (Bad Boy), a neo-R&B instant classic highlighted by the Marvin Gaye-influenced "You Ain't Right" and the love-gone-wrong tearjerker "I Wish." The Chicago native's 2004 follow-up, Let's Talk About It, didn't quite live up to Emotional 's high standard, but Thomas remains a walking amalgam of old-school R&B tropes derived from such diverse sources as Donny Hathaway, Nat "King" Cole, Sting, Ray Parker Jr., Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, Steely Dan, and the Clark Sisters.

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly
11:35 p.m., Main Stage

Maze featuring Frankie Beverly is a cornerstone of the Essence Festival's party philosophy, an act that always gets the Superdome crowd on its feet to dance the Electric Slide. Beverly's gospel training informs uplifting material like his anthem to social improvement, "Workin' Together." Though the band's personnel has changed over the years, Beverly's mellifluous vocals never fail to thrill on fan favorites such as "Southern Girl," "Back in Stride," "Joy and Pain" and "Never Let You Down."

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