Janet Jackson (39222)

Music icon and legend Janet Jackson in concert at the Essence Music Festival stands to be a once-in-a-lifetime event that headlines the celebrity artists at the Superdome in New Orleans from July 2 through the 4. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Essence magazine, and Grammy Award-winning performers, including Mary J. Blige, Gladys Knight, Alicia Keys, Jill Scott, LL Cool J, and Earth, Wind and Fire, are returning to the Dome to celebrate the occasion.

Jackson grew up before our eyes on television beginning with the series “Good Times,” in movies, music videos and many popular albums, including “Control” and “Rhythm Nation.” In keeping with the Essence Festival tradition of featuring R&B and soul music icons, Jackson tops the list of trailblazing African-American female singers of the 20th century.

Nephew Tommy from the Steve Harvey Show (WBLS Radio) hosts the center stage concerts at the Dome, which features Jackson commanding the main stage just after 11 until 1 a.m. on Friday night. Keep in mind, however, that all concerts begin at 7 p.m. On Friday, July 2, Monica kicks it off with her vocal power and signature sound, followed by Raphael Saadiq, DJ Soul Sister, Charlie Wilson, with Jackson closing.

On Saturday night, Keri Hilson is the opening artist. The headliners are a fantastic trio, with rapper LL Cool J, Gladys Knight and Alicia Keys treating the audience to their famously entertaining performances. The final concert on Sunday begins with Trey Songz, followed by the incomparable Jill Scott, a two-time Essence Festival artist; Mary J. Blige, a veteran Essence Festival star; and ending with the timeless Earth, Wind and Fire.

On the Superlounge stages in the Dome, rising and veteran R&B artists perform Friday through Sunday night. Among them are gospel duo Mary, Mary; Chrisette Michele; New Orleans’ own Big Sam’s Funky Nation; and War on Friday night. On Saturday, soul singer Joe, Mint Condition, and De La Soul perform. Meanwhile, Sunday’s roster features Lalah Hathaway, Estelle, and Shamarr Allen and the Underdawgs.

For many of us who trek south or east for the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans, over the years we notice the growing takeover of the tourist and nightlife scene in the Crescent City. During this holiday weekend, avenues and streets fill with visiting fans and families on Canal Street, in the mall and in the famed French Quarter. The “party with a purpose” blossoms into a rich, multi-tiered edutainment and cultural extravaganza with free seminars featuring noted educators, authors and celebrities at the Morial Convention Center in downtown New Orleans.

The Empowerment Series of seminars at the Convention Center on Friday focuses on love and relationships. Panels range from “Black Men Uncensored: Part I. The Games, The Lies, The Truth” to “Informed and In Charge: Sex in the Era of HIV” with guest speakers and commentators, actor and author Hill Harper, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Kirk and Tammy Franklin, Steve Harvey, Lamman Rucker, Rodney and Holly Robinson Peete, Judge Penny Brown Reynolds and Dr. Celeste Watkins Hayes.

For the first time in Essence Fest history, the singular focus of the Saturday sessions is education. Dr. Bill Cosby returns as a keynote speaker. An exemplary panel of experts will discuss “The State of Education.” With new initiatives like charter schools, federal Race to the Top funds and changing teacher evaluation and performance standards, Black parents need to stay informed about their options for improving their children’s education. Among the panelists are Dr. Steve Perry, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Bishop T.D. Jakes, NEA Secretary Rebecca Pringle, Dr. Andre Perry, actress and mother Jada Pinkett Smith and National Urban League President Marc Morial.

Sunday’s program brings high praise and worship to the convention center through the concert performances of Marvin Sapp, Karen Clark Sheard, Pastor Shirley Caesar and Tye Tribett, among others. Add to this incredible three-day offering a convention hall filled with booths, activities, contests and free gifts from corporate sponsors that include Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Ford. An artist’s bazaar provides a rich collection of original paintings, sculptures, Afrocentric fashions, and jewelry available for purchase.

From July 2-4, the Essence Music Festival brings good news to New Orleans, which now faces more challenges resulting from the Gulf oil spill. Newly elected Mayor Mitch Landrieu has new, post-Katrina struggles ahead, but for a few days in July, the women are coming to party, lift up and celebrate the music and the city that shows resilience time and again.

And don’t forget those Super Bowl champions! You may spot one in the crowd.

For tickets and hotel information, visit www.essencemusicfestival.com.