For nearly two decades, the party known as Essence Fest has brought some of the best musicians of the African-American community to New Orleans for a huge celebration, but it's always been known as a "party with purpose"-- hosting speakers and panel discussions on a wide range of topics. And the purpose side of the party will be amplified this year as msnbc joins Essence magazine as a sponsor of the annual festival.
Essence President Michelle Ebanks joined Rev. Al Sharpton on PoliticsNation Thursday to explain how the festival will be different this year.
"It'll be a little different," she said. "First of all, we're no longer the Essence Music Festival it's the Essence Festival."
"Nineteen years ago when the festival was started as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine, Susan L. Taylor, then the editor-in-chief said, 'We're Essence. We can't just have a party. We need to give back to the community,'" Ebanks said.
Panelists for the 2013 program include Rev. Sharpton, who has attended the event as a speaker for years, and other major civil rights activists and lawmakers, including Medgar Evers' widow Myrlie Evers-Williams, Congressman John Lewis, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
msnbc will broadcast live from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center during the Essence Festival from July 5-7 with Now with Alex Wagner, Hardball, NewsNation, The Ed Show, Melissa Harris Perry, and--of course--PoliticsNation producing special shows for the event.
"When this audience comes together, it's to celebrate those traditions which have propelled us forward," Ebanks said.
"We're going to be sharp of mind in the daytime and we're going to party hearty at night," Sharpton added.
That includes checking out the headline act: Beyoncé. "You've seen me do the James Brown. You've never seen my Beyoncé," he said.
"It's shaping up now to be the biggest festival in our 19-year history," Ebanks said.