For nearly three decades, one of the most highly anticipated events of the year continues to be the ESSENCE Music Festival. Renamed Essence Festival of Culture in 2018, the four day event (June 30th-July 3rd) draws nearly a half-million attendees to New Orleans for an unforgettable weekend. While seeing performances by Janet Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Kevin Hart and more are reason enough to attend, it’s also a space in which informative and empowering conversations take place. On the importance of having a thoughtfully curated the line up of programming during the weekend, Essence Ventures first-ever Chief Marketing Officer, Erika Bennett shared, “We’re about deeply serving our community of Black women [in particular]. And we can’t do that if we’re not thinking about all of the resources and the tools that our community needs from celebrating our beauty to economic empowerment. It also includes our food, culture as well as music. All of those things are a part of Essence and we try to ensure there’s something for everyone in our programming.”
Pauline Malcolm-Thornton Essence Ventures Chief Revenue Office echoed similar sentiments, “It’s programming that’s holistic across the Black experience. From the “Essence Eats” food and wine festival to the wellness house that’s all about self care, there’s the Beauty Carnival, wealth empowerment stage, entrepreneurial summit, there’s so many different topics and genres that are holistic to the Black experience. The name, Essence Festival of Culture, is quite intentional as it’s really a celebration of not just our music but our lifestyle.” Malcolm-Thornton went on to add that the festival creates a plethora of job opportunities for small business owners in the city of New Orleans. “We’re all about creating Black equity and parity for Black women, who we serve and the Black community at large. The Black woman is the life blood of our community. It’s really important to our mission to create Black equity and close the wealth gap.”
Leading up to the festival, the renowned publication recently produced a three city event entitled, The Road to ESSENCE Festival of Culture Tour in Los Angeles, Washington, DC and Chicago. Actor, Lance Gross, star of Tyler Perry’s, “House of Payne” hosted the Los Angeles event which took place at the Nate Holden Performing Art Center. He spoke about his most memorable moments at Essence Fest as well as his latest personal and professional accomplishments.
Zon D’Amour: Essence Fest reminds me of Howard University’s Homecoming meets a family reunion. If someone hasn’t been before, how would you describe it and what’s your favorite memory?
Lance Gross: It’s like a rich Black family reunion that you want to be a part of. My first time going to Essence Fest was in 2007. “House of Payne” had just premiered and Tyler Perry took the cast. It was at that Essence Fest, that I realized what I was a part of. I didn’t consider myself a celebrity or anything like that until Essence Fest. I was walking down the street by myself getting a po-boy and on my way back to my hotel, I got mobbed by “House of Payne” fans. I didn’t know so many people were watching the show. That was my best experience, as well as being front row to see Prince perform live.
ZD: Many people think of Essence Fest and think of the performances but there are so many components to the weekend. Can you share what else attendees can expect to experience?
LG: A lot of people focus on the night time concerts but it’s an all day thing from panels to workshops, it really opens your eyes to everything that we’re offering as a people. Essence Fest brings thousands of Black business owners together in the marketplace at the convention center. There’s so much to experience and I look forward to being a part of it every year.
ZD: You’re a veteran actor, photographer and now screenwriter. Congrats on not only starring in but writing an episode of “House of Payne”. How did this opportunity come about?
LG: It’s funny because Tyler knows what he wants but he’s also lenient when it comes to [actors] coming up with lines on the spot. He knows that we know our character so he trusts us, just as long as the message that he’s trying to convey is relayed in an understandable way. As far as writing the episode, I turned in a treatment and [the production team] loved it and they gave me the chance to see what I can do and everyone said it’s one of their favorite episodes of the season so I’m excited about it.
ZD: When the New Edition biopic aired, you made it known that you would love to be a part of a Jodeci biopic. What other passion projects would you like to star in and screen at the Essence Festival of Culture?
LG: I’m into superheros so I’d love to be the Black Green Lantern, John Stewart. So if anyone is out there with that opportunity, I’m your guy.
ZD: You recently became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and so many people were inspired by the fact that you were steadfast in regards to accomplishing this goal. What’s the importance of not putting an expiration date on your dreams?
LG: Joining Kappa Alpha Psi, was something that I wanted to do while at Howard but they were off the yard at the time so I didn’t have the opportunity to do it but I kept going back to it. No matter how much success I’ve had, it’s always been in the back of my mind like, ‘Wow I’ve done everything that I want to do except that.’ So it was time to revisit it.I asked myself well why am I not pursuing it? I can do the alumni chapter and I put my best foot forward.
Click here to purchase the custom embroidered vegan leather toiletry gifted to Lance.