If there was any ever doubt whether R&B was alive and progressing, the 2012 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans debunked each and every doubter. No gimmicks or special affects were needed, as pure vocal prowess and legacy resonated loudly throughout the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Legends (Charlie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige) left the crowd speechless, 90s R&B superstars (D’ Angelo, Dru Hill, Carl Thomas) returned to the stage and rising artists (Melanie Fiona, Luke James) lived up to the hype all over the course of four days (July 5-8). Unfortunately, many of the sets overlapped, from the main stage to sponsored lounges in pockets of the Superdome, forcing fans to miss a few unforgettable performances.
Still, the most talked about performances were caught on the main stage. Mary J. Blige, Charlie Wilson and D’Angelo all left people in awe and remained at the tip of people’s tongues long after the show ended. Check out Billboard.com’s take on the 10 best performances at the 2012 Essence Music Festival.
10. The “R&B Divas”
Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Keke Wyatt, Syleena Johnson, and Monifah Carter came together to pay tribute to fallen legends of this year. Each one belted a song of a late R&B icon, which included Vesta Williams, Etta James, Donna Summer, Nick Ashford and Whitney Houston. Keke Wyatt’s cover of Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” left the audience in awe even after the performance.
9. Trey Songz
Mr. Steal Your Girl had the Superdome hot and sweaty as he performed NSFW ballads such as “Neighbors Know My Name,” “Love Faces,” “I Invented Sex,” and his latest single, “Dive.” Songz even took time close to the end of his set to make his fans feel special by pointing a few out and singing a verse from “Say Aah,” for a birthday girl in the crowd.
8. Dru Hill
“We’re not only family, we’re friends,” Sisqo reminded his fans mid-set on Saturday night (July 7). All original members of Dru Hill reunited at this year’s festival to bask in nostalgia but also debut their new single, “Always.”
7. Carl Thomas
Although he released his latest fourth studio album, “Conquer,” just this past year (2011), Carl Thomas hasn’t hit the stage for some time. But the minute he walked out, looking dapper and with such a genuine smile, it was obvious that Thomas was at Essence to put on a show. And he did.
6. Aretha Franklin
The Queen of Soul transitioned from behind the mic to behind the keys to perform her greatest hits, such as “Chain of Fools,” “Natural Woman,” “Something He Can Feel” and more. During the middle of her set, Essence Communications Inc. president Michelle Ebanks presented Aretha the Power Award, honoring her for having “the greatest voice of all time.”
5. Anthony Hamilton
After performing at the show’s Superlounges in past years at the festival, Anthony Hamilton proved that he can rock the main stage with the rest of the legends. Performing heartfelt ballads such as “Point of it All” and feel-good tracks like “Cool,” Hamilton effortlessly got the crowd warmed up and in high spirits.
4. Chaka Khan
“I’m Chaka Khan. I ain’t going no where,” the singer said close to the end of her set. Chaka had the right to have such sass, for not only did she speak the truth, but the last night of Essence festival undeniably belonged to her. Chaka, backed by three talented singers and alongside two pair of dancers, kept the crowd on their feet unlit 2 am by strutting from one side of the stage to the other and belting classics such as “Tell Me Something Good” and “Sweet Thing.”
D’Angelo’s performance was perfect. His vocals were pristine, especially his falsetto, and his swift dance moves and plucks from his electric guitar reassured that his comeback is indeed one to keep ones eyes peeled for. Unfortunately, he was not received with resonating screams as deserved. The majority of the crowd was looking to vibe with the 90s crooner more than the funk-rock star who jammed out “Voodoo” songs and improvised with the guitar in his hands, leaving “Untitled (How Does It Feel), and “Lady,” from “Brown Sugar” to the very end.
2. Mary J. Blige
Since the minute she stepped onto the scene, Mary has used her artistry to empower those who have struggled emotionally. Mary did just that as the festival’s headliner on Saturday (July 7). Throughout her emotional 90-minute set, Mary would share words of empowerment, and drove those in attendance to chills when belting her songs of sorrow and perseverance, specifically “No More Drama.”
1. Charlie Wilson
Charlie Wilson put on a spectacle of a show on Friday night (July 9). The former Gap Band frontman, donning glow-in-the-dark, bright colored outfits, kept concertgoers on their feet for his entire 2 hour set, performing classics like “Outstanding,” Yearning For Love,” and more. Wilson took advantage of the fans’ apparent enjoyment and participation to get personal and confess to being sober of cocaine addiction and alcoholism for 18 years. Another highlight of Wilson’s show occurred in the latter part of his set when he brought out the Solero Brothers, two Puerto Rican singers whom he discovered and signed, for a Spanish-English rendition of “You Are.”