In 1995, Essence Communications Inc. celebrated its magazine's 25th anniversary with a party in New Orleans.
Thousands showed up to applaud the magazine and the best of black musical talent and culture.
Seventeen years later that experience — proposed as a one-time "party with a purpose" — has morphed into the Essence Music Festival.
It's an annual pilgrimage for some, a reunion for others and a strong economic engine for a tourist-driven city still rebounding from devastating hurricanes and last year's BP oil spill.
The event begins Friday with free events inside the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and concerts, held through Sunday, at the Louisiana Superdome.
This year's headliners include Usher, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Hudson, Chaka Khan, Fantasia, Kanye West, Jill Scott and New Edition.