- Associated Press - Sunday, July 8, 2012

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - For years, R&B singer Anthony Hamilton has packed the smaller stages at the Essence Music Festival. This year, though, Hamilton scored a closing Sunday night spot on the festival’s main stage, something he’s been seeking ever since he got a taste of the event.

“So many years have gone by with me wanting to be on that stage,” Hamilton told The Associated Press. “This is such a huge accomplishment for me that didn’t come easily.”

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, R&B superstar Chaka Khan, gospel great Kirk Franklin and Fantasia also perform Sunday at the festival, which is in its 18th year.

Hamilton noted he had consistently packed the SuperLounges set up inside the Superdome’s corridors, and he believed he had long ago earned the main stage inside the cavernous arena. Last year, he sang there with Jill Scott.

“One of the goals when you perform at smaller venues is that you want to be in a place where all your fans can come see you,” he said. “To be on that grand stage, wow, the feeling is unparalleled. I don’t think performing at the Grammys would feel this good.”

Aretha Franklin will receive the festival’s “Power Award” during a special tribute. Immediately following her performance, Khan will return for a 60-minute encore show with the newly comprised R&B Divas _ Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Monifah Carter, Syleenah Johnson and Keke Wyatt _ who will pay tribute to the R&B artists who passed away over the past year.

“I’m shutting it down,” Khan said emphatically during an event at the convention center, where workshops encouraging and empowering the community are regularly held.

One of the most popular events at the center has been the “My Black Is Beautiful” booth, which includes beauty stations where hair and makeup specialists give free makeovers. At times, the line to receive a makeover stretched more than 100 women deep.

The “My Black Is Beautiful” campaign launched about six years ago by black women and Cincinnati-based Proctor & Gamble Co., which makes skin care and cosmetics. The company conducted a survey after President Barack Obama was elected that showed 90 percent of black women felt that Michelle Obama’s role as first lady would have a positive impact on perceptions of black beauty.

Linda Clement Holmes said the campaign gives girls, teens and women a place to go for information about health and beauty.

Holmes said Essence magazine has been the go-to source for black women for generations so bringing the campaign to the festival made sense.

“Essence magazine is where we have always looked to see women who were like us,” said Holmes. “It helps to serve as role models for African-American girls, and My Black is Beautiful is about supporting that dialogue and conversation.”

Hamilton said the information gleaned in the convention center is another reason why he returns to the city each year.

“It just makes me feel good,” he said. “It’s a time when I can go and be rejuvenated and replenished. I like seeing us when we can get together and have a good time in a positive space. “

Hamilton planned to sing a few tunes from his latest release “Back to Love,” which has the hit single, “Pray For Me.”

Hamilton had a role in the hit movie “American Gangster,” but he said he doesn’t have any acting jobs lined up.

“I’ve still got to master me,” he said. “I’m working on learning how to express myself on camera in the same way as I do in the studio and on stage. Auditioning sometimes throws me off but I think I’ve just got to get out of my own way and not overthink it.”


Associated Press writer Stacey Plaisance contributed to this report.

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