- Associated Press - Thursday, June 30, 2016

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Latest on the annual Essence Festival held over the July Fourth holiday in New Orleans (all times local):

6:55 p.m.

Film producer Will Packer is attending this year’s Essence Festival not just as a fan but also in a working capacity.

Packer, whose film credits include “Takers,” ”Think like a Man” and “Ride Along,” says he will be in charge of a crew filming a new project called “Girls Trip,” featuring Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and Regina Hall.

Packer told reporters Thursday that the film is centered around four women and their time at the Essence Festival. It’s due for release in July 2017.

He says the project is an “opportunity to bring some of the festival experiences to the big screen.”


5:25 p.m.

The 2016 Essence Festival has officially begun.

Essence Communications Inc. President Michelle Ebanks said she was thrilled to be back in New Orleans. She says the weekend always makes her feel like she’s coming home.

Editor-in-chief Vanessa De Luca also thanked and acknowledged the “more than 500” volunteers who participated in their second annual “Day of Service,” helping to give halls and classrooms at Cohen College Prep a fresh coat of paint. Singer Estelle, one of the event’s headline performers this year, also participated in the community program.

Organizers launched this year’s event with a press conference Thursday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where its free, daily empowerment experience will be held through Sunday. Nightly, ticketed concerts also are held at the Superdome as part of the festival.


1:15 p.m.

There will be another new face at the 2016 Essence Festival but fans will have no problem recognizing her.

Organizers Thursday announced that popular television host and actress Oprah Winfrey will make her first-ever appearance at the festival at 4 p.m. on Saturday at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Additional details about her appearance have not been released.

Essence Editor-in-Chief Vanessa De Luca says Winfrey’s message of inspiration is universal and “through her life’s work, she has influenced women and girls across the globe.”

De Luca says Winfrey accepted an invitation to the event by Iyanla Vanzant, a motivational speaker and life coach who’s scheduled to address fans at the festival’s free empowerment experience also on Saturday.

The festival is held through Sunday.


2:50 a.m.

Music has always been at the heart of the annual Essence Festival, now in its 22nd year, and this year will be no different.

Fans will get to hear from first-timers Mariah Carey, Puff Daddy and Jeremih as well as from festival veterans Charlie Wilson, Maxwell, New Edition, Tyrese and Lalah Hathaway - all scheduled to perform inside the Superdome in New Orleans from Friday through Sunday.

And in continuing with its theme to “party with a purpose,” organizers have prepared an empowerment experience inside the city’s convention center that includes insight into current events and opportunities for entrepreneurs to get help in growing their businesses.

The event kicks off Thursday with a day of service. About 500 volunteers will help clean and paint Cohen College Prep school in New Orleans’ central city.

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