Female Artists Who'll Rock ESSENCE Fest

From the mainstage to the superlounges, find out the performers who will keep the crowd moving at the 2013 ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans July 4th weekend.

Tyrus Townsend May, 31, 2013

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Grammy Award-winning artist Jill Scott effortlessly infuses jazz, hip-hop, soul and poetry into a unique sound that has garnered multi-platinum success. Born in Philadelphia, the performer, who graced the stage of Broadway and worked odd jobs, has gone on to produce four studio and new live albums, act on the small and big screens, author a book of poetry and tour extensively all over the world. Jill continues to be a champion for the voiceless and provides financial assistance to promising college students through her Blues Babe Foundation.

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Eclectic performer Janelle Monáe has made way as “one  to watch” in the music industry. From her EP, Metropolis:Suite I (The Chase), to the most recent Grammy Award-nominated The ArchAndroid, Monáe's success caught the attention of CoverGirl and became their spokeswoman in August 2012. Monae’s new single, “Q.U.E.E.N”, featuring Erykah Baud, was recently released and is currently burning up the charts and airwaves across the world.

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Discovered by M.C. Hammer at the age of 12, singer-songwriter Keyshia Cole is a multi-platinum darling. Citing Mary J. Blige as one of her inspirations, Cole has released five studio albums as well as starred in the highly-rated Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is and Keyshia & Daniel: Family First reallity shows all while managing a family and a grueling touring schedule. Keyshia’s latest effort, Woman to Woman, is in stores now.

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For singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, actress, model and now record label head, Solange is a woman about business. From Solo Star to the highly successful Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams, Solange’s musical style, as well as fashion sense, have evolved and intertwined into a beautiful, eclectic breath of fresh air. The EP True was released earlier this year, and fans can expect a third studio album via her Saints Records label in the near future.

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Singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé has something to boast about: her debut album Our Version of Events is the UK’s biggest-selling debut of 2012. This former medical student, who cites Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell as major influences, has written for stars such as ESSENCE Festival alum Fantasia and her resume is rapidly building as an in-demand songwriter.

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Grammy Award-nominated, sister duo Les Nubians (Helene Faussart and Celia Faussart) are the most successful French language groups in the U.S. With four albums under their belt, the pair’s Billboard R&B single chart-topper, “Makeda,” helped them receive a Soul Train Lady of Soul Award for Best New Artist, Group or Duo as well as two NAACP Image Award nominations. 

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Hailed as the “new Miriam Makeba,” Simphiwe Dana is an award-winning South African Xhosa singer who combines jazz, rap and native music. Her third album, Kulture Noir, was released in 2010 and continues to inspire others and she tours extensively across the world.

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Award-winning singer-songwriter released her first album, Maya Who?!, in 2003 and has landed on the Billboard charts ever since. Working with such greats as Stephen Marley, Rich Media and Norman Brown, Maya has produced other albums and toured in Europe, Honduras and El Salvador while working for numerous human rights and cancer campaigns. Her latest CD is Cry Love.

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With a husky, jazzy voice and honey coated lyrics, Chrisette Michele first appeared on Jay-Z’s “Lost Ones” and several other noted hip-hop albums before releasing her debut, I Am, which earned a Grammy Award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for "Be Okay.” Two albums later, Chrisette is gearing up to release her fourth studio album entitled Better and is currently on tour with Keyshia Cole.

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Alex Belle delivers the best when it comes to lead vocals, while Isis Valentino’s vocals, along with her mastery of the guitar and bass, complement her well. Together the duo, St. Beauty, delivers a captivating sound that’s a blend of everything from soul to tribal.

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Award-winning singer, songwriter and New York Times best-selling author Faith Evans has collaborated with everyone from Al B. Sure to Mary J. Blige to Biggie Smalls (her late husband). From her debut album, Faith Evans, to her latest effort Something About Faith, the songstress has released three platinum-certified studio albums and rose to No.1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Chart with “I’ll Be Missing You.” Faith is currently one of the executive producers and stars of TV One’s R&B Divas: Atlanta.

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Influenced by Alicia Keys and Alanis Morissette, Roc Nation signee Bridget Kelly is slated as the next big pop star. Having toured and performed at Coachella Arts & Festival with Jay-Z, Yankees Stadium and Summer Sonic in Japan, the native New Yorker released her highly anticipated single “Special Delivery” in late 2012.

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Singer, songwriter and pianist Avery*Sunshine has a voice that will make you smile even on a bad day. A former member of the world-renowned Wilmington/Chester Mass Choir, this Spelmanite was first heard on The Fighting Temptations soundtrack and has gone on to work for Tyler Perry, Jennifer Holiday and even performed during the 2009 Inauguration of President Obama. With her self-titled studio album, Avery*Sunshine is one to watch this year.

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From Soul Train dancer to a member of Shalamar to a Grammy Award-winning solo artist, Jody Watley redefined pop, soul and dance music genres with cutting-edge style and funky appeal. Over 20 million records later, Watley appeared as Rizzo in the musical Grease (the first African-American woman to play that role), named one of People magazine’s "50 Most Beautiful People" of 1990 and released her 10th studio album in 2010.

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Leela James is a beautiful blend of gritty, soulful, down-home-blues soul whose music is influenced by Gladys Knight, Mavis Staples, Stevie Wonder and a host of other musical greats. From her debut album, A Change Is Gonna Come, to the most  recent, My Soul, James has always stayed true to a throwback of 1960s & 1970s musical sound.

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Greta Prince wowed our hearts when she became the first winner of ESSENCE “R & B Star” and continues to soothe our soul with unique vocal stylings and God-given talent. Armed with a three-octave range, she is influenced by Prince, Patti LaBelle, Chrisette Michele and Gladys Knight and even samples hip-hop legend Nas on her first studio effort, How Does She Know. Prince hopes to inspire all women to work hard and focus on their life goals.

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Blessed with a six-octave range, contemporary jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell has worked with such great as Lou Rawls, Vanessa Williams, George Duke and Dizzy Gillespie. A classically trained violinist and pianist, Ferrell is best known for her hits “Nothing Has Ever Felt” with Will Downing as well as her soul-stirring rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”

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Named one of USA Today’s 2010 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival’s “Hidden Surprises,” Mia Borders is a force to be reckoned with. Her sound is a blend of funk and soul is present throughout her four albums. Her 2010 release, Magnolia Blue, earned her a nomination for Best Emerging Artist at the Big Easy Music Awards. Her current album, Wherever There Is, represents her most personal material to date.

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New Orleans’ own Kourtney Heart is a star in the making. Since releasing her first single at the tender age of 15, Heart gained huge success with the follow up hit “My Boy,” featuring the late Magnolia Shorty. Heart’s latest project, A Gemini’s Diary, was released in 2012.

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Canadian born Tamia first appeared on Quincy Jones’ Q’s Jook Joint album and has gone on to produce a string of hits, including “Stranger in My House,” “Me," and “Into You.” Married to NBA great Grant Hill, Tamia has received numerous Grammy Award nominations and her latest album, Beautiful Surprise, was released on her own label Plus One Music Group.

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Singer/songwriter/actress Marsha Ambrosius hit the scene in 2000 as one half of the duo Floetry, earning platinum status and a number of Grammy Award nods. After two albums, Ambrosius split from her musical partner, created a slew of mixtapes, produced for Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys and eventually released the J Records debut Late Nights & Early Mornings. Now back with a new single, “Cold War,” which is quickly burning up the charts, Ambrosius is set to release Friends & Lovers this year.

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With a four-octave range and bluesy, soulful sound, Grammy Award-nominated singer/songwriter/producer Alice Smith is a true artist. Her acclaimed 2006 debut, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me, solidified her as a force to reckon with and garnered a cult following. Now back with a new sound and attitude, the new mother’s upcoming project is filled with love, independence and life experiences.