Aretha Franklin to headline Essence Music Festival

Aretha Franklin
Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin will headline the 2012 Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

Perennial Essence favorites Mary J. Blige (who closed out the festival last year), Charlie Wilson and Fantasia have also been tapped to headline the annual three-day festival, which is billed as one of the largest gatherings of black artists in the country. The festival is set for July 6 to 8 at the Louisiana Superdome.

Franklin performed at the inaugural festival in 1995 and again in 2005.

What began as a one-off celebration for the 25th anniversary of the black woman's lifestyle magazine Essence has turned into one of the only annual music festivals cartering exclusively to R&B and hip-hop fans. Essence typically taps a mix of current superstars, legacy acts and breaking upstarts for the main stage and the surrounding smaller stages, dubbed superlounges. Last year's superlounges were themed around the funk soul of Minneapolis, neo-soul, traditional R&B and old school.

The lineup was revealed Wednesday on Essence's website and also includes SWV, Dru Hill, Ledisi, Stephanie Mills, Raheem DeVaughn, Estelle, Goapele, Vivian Green, Kindred the Family Soul and Luke James. More acts are expected to be announced.

It has yet to be announced which night Franklin and Blige will anchor. Last year, Usher, Kanye West and Blige closed out Friday, Saturday and Sunday, respectively, at the festival, which attracted more than 422,000 attendees, who circulated through the Superdome and the free workshops and empowerment seminars at the city's convention center.

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