NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The party with a purpose kicked off in the city and offers fun for all.
Children danced with a rapper on stage in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center while not far away adults competed in dance competitions before thousands.
"My first," said Tara Favors.
She came to the weekend event with friends who are no strangers to the Essence Music and Empowerment Festival.
"It's just a unique festival where you get a good combination of culture and music. You can can enjoy the experience. You get to enjoy the richness of the city," said Vonda Patterson.
"Getting to know new people, seeing great people, it's almost like a family reunion," added Laticha Brown.
"Oh, it's going to be a lot of great acts tonight, so gosh, I've never seen Diana Ross, or Chaka Khan, John Legend," Favors said.
And city government said security will be strong all weekend long.
"We have a hundred percent staffing, we have a great deployment down in the French Quarter, on Canal Street. We have a traffic plan," said New Orleans Police Supt. Michael Harrison.
"Welcome to the great state of Louisiana," said Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said from the stage to festival goers attending empowerment seminars.
The governor also touted his embrace of Medicaid expansion and his ongoing fight for equal pay for women.
"I'm embarrassed about what I'm about to tell you, it offends me, it should offend you. In Louisiana, women earn 66-cents on the dollar compared to what a man earns…African-American women earn 49 cents on the dollars," said the governor.
And the magazine for women does not skimp on shopping opportunities inside the Essence Marketplace where vendors sell their wares and there are myriad stages where free entertainment by artists is on display.
"It's been good so far. Normally Fridays are kind of slow, people are still working but I'm looking for a good turnout tomorrow and Sunday," said merchant Nana Serwa Wiafe, a native of Ghana.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu will be out of office when Essence returns next year.
Essence officials credit him with helping to keep the event in New Orleans when he served as the state's lieutenant governor.
"The mayor has been as fierce a champion for Essence," said Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks.
Hosting the event is a huge win for the city.
"Just the business side of this is incredible, 250,000 to 300,000 people, $200 million economic development impact. THis city is empty if Essence isn't here, zero. How do we know that because they went to Houston for year," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Essence officials unveiled a huge placard of a mock Essence Magazine cover with Landrieu's face on it.
"We're here for Mary J. Blige and definitely Xscape," said the Bruceses, they are here couple here for their wedding anniversary.
And even though this is about a lot of fun a lot of people come to Essence to get business done because it attracts some heavy hitters in the business community. Major corporations are represented at the event.
"Since college we've all moved to separate places so we descend here every July, it's like our girl's trip, and it's fun, it's food and we catch up while we're here and we get to some of our favorite entertainers like Mary J. Blige, and Diana Ross," said Kydra Finn.