The stars came out for the three-day New Orleans event, and each artist used their set to pay their respects to Jackson, who died on June 25.
The festival kicked off on Friday with a brass band providing the soundtrack to a Jackson video montage, with images and footage of the superstar from his Jackson 5 days through to his pop heyday lighting up the screens at the Louisiana Superdrome.
Queen Latifah led the artist tributes during her early set, insisting the “Thriller” hitmaker’s career achievements would go down in history.
She told the crowd, “He was the greatest entertainer of all time, bottom line. There’s no one who can compare to him. There’s no one who’s had over 40 years of music in them from a child on up to being a 50 year old and about to go on a tour.”
R&B singer Ne-Yo turned his performance into a full-on Jackson tribute, hitting the stage dressed in the late icon’s classic black-pants-and-white-jacket ensemble, topped with a dark fedora.
The “So Sick” singer declared, “I’m gonna do what I can to keep the memory alive,” before launching into a series of Jackson-inspired dance routines as he belted out his songs. Ne-Yo also incorporated a riff from Jackson’s “Human Nature” as he sang his own track “Sexy Love.”
Soul star John Legend remarked on Jackson’s unparalleled career, revealing that he was excited for the return of the world’s only true superstar.
He said, “He’s the true definition of what it means to be a ‘pop star’ and no one else has reached that. I was looking forward to a comeback, planning to go see him in London, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to see that.”
And Beyonce rounded out the Jackson tributes as she closed the first night of the Essence Music Festival. The “Crazy in Love” beauty played home-video footage of her as an excited 5-year-old, preparing to attend a Jackson concert. Beyonce told the audience, “That night I saw my hero perform… when I saw Michael Jackson hit the stage, that’s when I decided who I wanted to be.”
An image of Jackson then appeared on the screen and Beyonce broke into a rendition of her song “Halo,” altering the lyrics to pay homage to Jackson.
Kneeling on the stage, she sang, “Michael I can see your halo, you know you’re my saving grace…/ Michael I can see your halo, I pray it won’t fade away…/ Michael, your music won’t fade away…”
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