aretha franklin

Aretha Franklin headlines Essence Music Festival Sunday Show

*Now in its 18th year, the Essence Music Festival (EMF), the ultimate destination for entertainment and inspiration, hosted over 422,000 attendees last year.  What began in 1995 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Essence magazine has now grown into one of the country’s “Top 10 Leading Brand Events” by Advertising Age.  EMF is the nation’s largest annual gathering of African American music and culture and will take place from July 5 to 8, 2012 in historic New Orleans, LA.

This year’s Festival is bigger, better and with a more complete programming roster than ever, with the most lauded names in entertainment and the nation’s most influential speakers, artists, authors, educators and leaders.  The official host each night will be Nephew Tommy, comedian and co-host of the long running Steve Harvey Morning Show.

The ultimate concert will once again offer a world class musical line up which includes the legendary Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Trey Songz, Kevin Hart, Ledisi, D’Angelo, Fantasia, The Pointer Sister,  Eve, Marsha Ambrosius and more. The line-up also includes the return of Grammy-Award winning singer D’Angelo to the Festival; the newly added Anthony Hamilton, who will thrill his fans from The Superdome’s main stage for the first time; R&B and soul music king and EMF staple Charlie Wilson who will close out the main stage on Friday night; popular gospel duo Mary Mary who will perform on Saturday; and Leah LaBelle who has been announced to perform at the SuperLounge.

This year’s soulsational show will conclude on Sunday, July 8, with a special, once in a lifetime ensemble comprised of Chaka Khan and the R&B Divas.  Immediately following the legendary Aretha Franklin’s headlining performance, Khan will return for a sixty-minute encore performance with the R&B divas, comprised of Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Monifah Carter, Syleenah Johnson and Keke Wyatt who will jointly render a powerful performance in tribute to the R&B artists who passed away over this past year.  As an added bonus, celebrated media personality Steve Harvey himself will take the stage on Sunday for a special tribute to the one and only Aretha Franklin.

Other highlights include:
The Festival kicks off July 5 with a full day youth empowerment experience at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, culminating with the first ever youth empowerment concert on the New & Next stage that night at the Superdome.  Actress Rocsi Diaz will host the first New & Next concert featuring a roster of today’s hottest young artists, including the newly added Katlyn Nichol and Coco Jones, hip-hop royalty Diggy Simmons, R&B pop group The OMG Girlz and New Orleans’ marching band The Roots of Music.  Sponsored by Verizon Wireless and community partner Capital One, tickets for the New and Next Stage concert are available at

Doug E. Fresh kicks off the first free and daily EMF Block Party before each of the nightly concerts that will take place in Champions Square July 6-8 from 3-6pm.  Hosted by newly added broadcast personalities Amanda Seales and Carla Ferrell, Festival attendees will be able to enjoy lively DJ sets from Beverly Bond, MC Lyte and DJ Spinderella with Captain Charles added to the lineup that includes Kourtney Heart, Dee 1, and F. Stokes.

Coca-Cola recognizes that while living a healthy lifestyle is important, it doesn’t hurt to feel good and look good too!  That’s why Coca-Cola is giving away a “Style Refresh” to two lucky festival attendees during the Mainstage Moments with June Ambrose, super stylist to the stars including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Will Smith, Jay-Z and Kelly Ripa.  She recently launched her own reality show on VH1 titled “Styled by June.”  In 2006, June released her first book titled Effortless Style.  She also appeared on the television show X Factor USA as a judge.  During the four minute Mainstage Moments on Saturday, July 7, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Ambrose will talk about the importance of having the right wardrobe and introduce the “Style Refresh” contest.

Concert attendees will have the opportunity to text-to-win during this main stage moment and the winners will be announced from the stage by her.  The “Style Refresh” winners will receive a shopping and styling experience with Ambrose at an exclusive, hi-end retailer.  Ambrose will meet with the consumer winners individually to discuss their personal style and what elements they feel need to be refreshed in their wardrobe.  After the consultation, the consumer will have approximately 1.5 hours to shop.  The entire experience will be captured on video and elements will be shared via social media and mobile applications.

As one of the most iconic voices in R&B music and known for his hits both as a solo artist and former lead singer of the legendary GAP Band — Charlie Wilson will feature exclusive merchandise from his “Uncle Charlie” line at this year’s Festival.  Wilson, affectionately known as “Uncle Charlie” to fans, will also make an appearance and sign autographs while at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center at both the “Uncle Charlie Hat Booth” and the Essence booth on Saturday, July 7 (2pm to 3pm) and Sunday, July 8 (12pm to1pm).  The items will include T-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs and select styles from the new “Uncle Charlie” hat collection.

EMF, along with Time Warner Supplier Diversity, and the New Orleans Multicultural Tourism Network (NOMTN), invites all minority and women-owned companies to join them for its Supplier Diversity Panel and networking event, taking place on Sunday, July 8, from 12pm to 2pm (CT) at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in Rooms 209-210.

Essence senior editor, personal finance & careers, Tanisha A. Sykes, will moderate this educational panel discussion that will focus on the importance of supplier diversity, how to be certified as a diverse owned business, the benefits of certification as well as an overview of the organizations that support minority business development and utilization.

Panelists will include: Greta Davis, Time Warner Supplier Diversity; Toni Rice, New Orleans Multi-Cultural Network (NOMCN) and more.  During this event, information will be provided regarding the process for submitting proposals to blue-chip Festival partners, producers of large, international events held in New Orleans and television, movies and other local productions.  The event will also include an opportunity for audience Q&A with the panelists, followed by a networking reception.

The theme of the EMF “Power of Our Voice” will be celebrated throughout the three day free and open to the public Essence Empowerment Experience (EEE), featuring Steve Harvey, Soledad O’Brien, Fredricka Whitfield, Dr. Steve Perry, Rev. Al Sharpton, Melissa Harris Perry, Rep. Maxine Waters, Roland Martin, Iyanla Vanzant, Terrence J, Lisa Raye McCoy, Tamar Braxton, Trina Braxton, Kobie Brown and an “All-Star Gospel Salute to Mary Mary and Fred Hammond” with Yolanda Adams, Kim Burrell, Tramaine Hawkins, Pastor Marvin Winans, Byron Cage, Israel Houghton and more.

Attendees will have the opportunity to meet authors and speakers at the EEE and purchase their books, as well as books by other African American authors, at the EMF Book Store, partnered with The Garden District Bookshop.  In addition, over 30 community outreach and non-profit organizations will be present at the EMF Community Outreach & Non-Profit areas to provide support and Festival goers with information on health, finance, social organizations, etc.

Festival goers will also be able to enjoy the Essence Marketplace, another of the Festival’s many daytime offerings, which will showcase over 150 vendors’ quality fine arts, crafts, celebrity products, clothing and jewelry by African American vendors from all over the world.  The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center will also feature interactive sponsor presentations, radio broadcasts, celebrity meet-and-greets and the Food Emporium, open daily from 9am to 6pm, serving Creole, Cajun and traditional soul food dishes and more; and from 6pm to 11pm at the Louisiana Superdome in the SuperLounge.

The presenting sponsor for the 2012 EMF is Coca-Cola.  Major sponsors include Coors Light, Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, Ford, My Black is Beautiful, U.S. Army and Verizon.  Official sponsors are CNN, State Farm, TBS, TV-One and Visa Pre-Paid.  SuperLounge sponsors are Coca-Cola, Ford, McDonald’s and Verizon Wireless.  The Festival is executive produced by Essence Festivals LLC, a division of Essence Communications Inc. (ECI).  GeChar is the executive producer of the 2012 EEE.

chaka khan

Chaka Khan will give keynote address at graduation ceremony in NOLA

Another hot happening in NOLA joins Essence with 10-time Grammy-winning singer Chaka Khan in a partnership with Verizon through its HopeLine program which will salute 33 women of the greater New Orleans community and their remarkable life changing achievements in the first graduation ceremony to be held at this year’s Festival.

On Saturday, July 7, 2012 in front of an audience of 5000 people, Khan will deliver the commencement address and will give a special performance to celebrate these women’s evolution and passage into their new lives.  Joining the ceremony will be Essence editor-in-chief Constance C.R. White, Dr. Denese Shervington, founder & president of the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES) and Marquett Smith, vice president of Verizon Wireless Corporate Communications. Verizon Wireless is the proud sponsor of this event.

One year ago, Khan’s The Chaka Khan Foundation in conjunction with the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies and Essence partnered on the SuperLife Transformation Program, an in-depth life and community-altering transformation process for deserving women who wished to accomplish their lifelong goals.  To launch the program, these women first gathered at the 17th annual EMF and met with Khan and author/inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant before embarking on an extraordinary journey of personal and community improvement.

With the help of community partners, agencies, and mentors, these selected women ages 18-35 realized their dreams from starting their own business to finishing school to reclaiming their health in a structured one-year program.  Now one year later, each of these women will return to where their journey began — on the Essence Empowerment Experience stage at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center — to be commemorated in a spectacular graduation ceremony.

“The SuperLife Transformation program has been an oasis of optimism as these women whom we celebrate are likely to become the entrepreneurs and leaders that this country needs,” says Khan.  “After witnessing their transformations in the past year then to come full circle and commemorate their triumphs in this wonderful and memorable occasion will be one of my fondest days to remember.”

“Our collaboration with the Chaka Khan Foundation and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies in this life changing program truly exemplifies Essence’s mission of ‘empowerment in action,’” says Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications, Inc.  “Essence’s commitment to improving the lives of mothers and daughters and our work with the Louisiana community remains undiminished.  Saluting these extraordinary women who have inspired us to live without limits gives them and the city of New Orleans the moment they deserve.”

“These incredibly courageous women embraced the notion that resiliency comes from within, and hence tapped into their own capacity to heal and transform.  I applaud their noble resolve!” says Dr. Shervington, founder & president of the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies.

Like the song goes, Khan’s every woman!  Still wearing her activist hat, the soulsational singer has partnered with top Los Angeles community and business leaders to kick-off the No Excuses National Initiative, a pilot program that aims to keep juvenile offenders from returning to jail.

“In Los Angeles County, more than 60 percent of all incarcerated youth return to custody after their release,” said Khan at a press conference this morning at the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles.  “These kids need our help.”

The aim of “No Excuses” is to enlist local business leaders to mentor young offenders upon their release from juvenile detention.  So far such wide-ranging businesses as Robnett Electric, Pacific Beauty College of Los Angeles and R.E.S.C.U.E. have stepped up to offer mentorship opportunities.  Other prestigious companies like Apple One have expressed interest in participating.  Businesses and juvenile offenders alike are encouraged to sign up for the “No Excuses” program at

“No Excuses National Initiative” is a program created by the legendary singer and Veronica Everett-Boyce, partnering with Avis Ridley-Thomas and her successful “Days of Dialogue” program that addresses the growing problem of transitioning incarcerated youth from detention facilities to the work force so that they can lead productive lives.

Beginning this summer, “No Excuses” will launch a pilot program in Los Angeles which will enlist local business leaders to provide mentorship programs to juveniles who have been recently released from local detention centers.  The goal is to prepare these young men and women to be exposed to careers of all kinds and gain the basic skills they will need to enter the work force.

“I challenge business leaders all over the country to step up and help these children,” continued Khan.  “More important than your money, these kids need your time and expertise to help them make a successful transition to a better life.”

One of the beneficiaries of an intense mentor relationship is former Sylmar Juvenile Hall inmate Prophet Walker who shared his experiences with the gathered crowd.  His journey out of a life behind bars began after attending InsideOUT Writers, an educational program for incarcerated young men and women that strive to reduce recidivism through workshops that discourage violence and promote pro-social means of self expression.

His teacher in the writing classes was top Hollywood producer Scott Budnick who took the young Walker under his wing.  Prophet is now a senior in civil engineering at Loyola Marymount University and a fulltime project engineer at Nautilus Group Inc., a real estate investment, development and design-build construction services firm.

“I wouldn’t have made it where I am today without the support of mentors along the way, including my godfather Richard Jones, Scott, InsideOUT Writers and so many others,” said Walker.  “What Chaka is doing with ‘No Excuses’ will provide a very important avenue towards success for kids who need a little extra help, just like I did.”

In fact, InsideOUT Writers, which was founded in 1996 to provide creative writing classes to youth incarcerated in L.A. County detention facilities, will administer the “No Excuses” program in partnership with the Chaka Khan Foundation.  InsideOUT Writers executive director, Wendy Killian shared her thoughts on the new initiative at the press conference.

Other speakers at the press conference included Chaka Khan Foundation president Veronica Coffield and community leader Ridley-Thomas.  Business leader Bill Thomas, who is vice president of operations at Robnett Electric, announced that his company has agreed to mentor 100 young men and women in the greater Los Angeles area.

Over the last two weeks, Khan, joined by business and community leaders, as well as friends from the entertainment industry, visited four local detention centers in the Los Angeles area — Central Juvenile Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas and Camp Scudder in Santa Clarita.

During a four hour presentation and dialogue session, following the Days of Dialogue format created by Ridley-Thomas, young men and women were encouraged to open up about their situations and what led them to their incarceration.  At one particular visit when asked what was most important in helping them to make good choices in the future, kids overwhelmingly said that good mentors and role models were most important to their future success.

And now as the No Excuses National Initiative rolls out in an L.A. County pilot program, young people throughout the area will have the opportunity to connect with business people in their communities to learn the very basic skills they will need to land a job and be successful in society and avoid returning to jails and institutions.  Funding for “No Excuses” is provided by Wells Fargo (Gold Sponsor), The California Endowment, Carol Biondi and The Grammy Museum. For more information, please visit

On the flip side of this “every” woman, Khan will conclude the EMF on Sunday, July 8, with a special, once in a lifetime ensemble comprised of Khan and the R&B Divas.  Immediately following the legendary Aretha Franklin’s headlining performance, Khan will return for a sixty-minute encore performance with the R&B divas, comprised of Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Monifah Carter, Syleenah Johnson and Keke Wyatt.  Together these powerful voices will pay tribute to the R&B artists who passed away over this past year.

About Essence Communications, Inc.

Essence Communications Inc. (ECI) is the number one media company dedicated to African American women, with a multi-platform presence in publishing, live events, and online.  The company’s flagship publication, Essence magazine, is the preeminent lifestyle magazine for African-American women; generating brand extensions such as the Essence Music Festival, Essence Black Women in Hollywood and Black Women in Music, Window on Our Women and Smart Beauty consumer insights series, the Essence Book Club,, and ventures in digital media (mobile, television and VOD).  For 42 years, Essence, which has a brand reach of over 8 million, has been the leading source of cutting-edge information and specific solutions relating to every area of African-American women’s lives.  Additional information about ECI and Essence is available at

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

audrey j. bernard

Audrey J. Bernard