- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Newly engaged queen of soul Aretha Franklin, Mary J. Blige, Stephanie Mills and Charlie Wilson are among entertainers set to perform at this summer’s Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.

The event, set for July 6-8, is billed as one of the largest gatherings of black artists in the country. Performances will be held at the Superdome while seminars with speakers, artists and authors will take place at the city’s convention center.

This will be the 18th annual Essence Music Festival and the third time Franklin has performed at the event. Franklin, who became engaged over the holidays to longtime friend Willie Wilkerson, performed during the festival’s inaugural year in 1995 and again in 2005.

The festival began as a one-time event celebrating the 25th anniversary of Essence magazine.

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