NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For 15 years, thousands of fans dressed all in white entered the Superdome on the final day of the Essence Festival anticipating the soulful sounds of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, who also dressed in his signature white pants, shirt and baseball cap, would sing into the wee hours of the next day.
Then in 2010, that experience ended when a new festival producer decided to end the long tradition of Maze as the festival's closer— to the disappointment of many despite the great talent tapped to close, including Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Lionel Richie, Aretha Franklin and Earth, Wind and Fire.
This year, Beverly and his group are back on the festival's main stage. And, although he's not scheduled to close the entire affair, fans welcome his return and the return of the massive Electric Slide held on the Superdome's floor.
"Frankie Beverly and Maze defined the Essence Festival," said Anita Brown of New Orleans. "They keep you out of your seat throughout their shows. I haven't witnessed that type of atmosphere with any other soul artist or group. To reunite them with the festival means that I need to bring my dancing shoes!"
Kevia Stroder, of Richmond, Texas, said Beverly's presence was missed.
"A lot of people I know stopped going to the festival because he was not a part of the lineup. But I'm looking forward to seeing them this year and I will be dressed in all my white," she said. "We love Maze and Frankie's music because they sing with a lot of soul and he sings from the heart. We just need his presence there and he can leave the rest to us because you know the crowd will sing everything for him."
In an interview with The Associated Press, Beverly said he's as eager to return to the festival as his fans are.
"We were doing that thing for 15 years and it was very hard not to be there," he said. "They (festival organizers) seemed to want to change it. I didn't think it was a good idea because it's a fantastic festival, up there ranking with some of the best in the world. It seemed silly to change something that wasn't broken.
"But I'm very excited about this performance."
Although Beverly, 68, didn't play Essence Festival, he was still performing regularly in New Orleans, including at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
"Once we started playing Jazz Fest, those people down there really got geeked up. The crowds kept getting bigger and bigger and it turned into a godsend. It makes us feel good to have a city that loves us with all their heart. It's more than a blessing."
Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc., said Beverly and Maze are a treasure and their appearance coincides with the festival's recognition of the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
"Friday night, we will celebrate the resilience of New Orleans with an epic performance by the legendary Maze featuring Frankie Beverly. The Superdome will light up with a sea of all-white as Maze closes out Friday night's concerts with classic hits that express love, triumph, joy, pain and happy feelings," she said.
Beverly was born Howard Beverly in Philadelphia but was so impressed by 50's R&B group Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers that he decided to change his name to Frankie. Beverly spent some time creating and singing with other groups before ultimately catching the ear of Marvin Gaye, who convinced him to change his then-band's name from Raw Soul to Maze and in 1977 helped them release their first album, "Maze Featuring Frankie Beverly."