Special to the AmNews

NEW ORLEANS-The 19th annual Essence Festival, held July 4-7, is more than three days of concerts at the New Orleans’ Superdome. The largest African-American gathering in the nation will offer a daily palette of workshops, speakers, career opportunities, fun activities, free promotional gifts, exhibits and celebrity appearances for all at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and throughout the city. There will also be a food court like no other at the center, with the most delicious display of homemade appetizing dishes set at affordable prices.

Among the highlights at the Superdome will be performances by returning artists LL Cool J, Jill Scott, Brandy and Maxwell on Friday night. On the following evening, Charlie Wilson, New Edition and Keyshia Cole will take to the main stage, and megastar Beyonce will rule the crowd on Sunday, July 7.

The music begins on July 4 with Essence’s first-ever “Family Reunion Day,” featuring free concerts, demonstrations, a childen’s petting zoo and activities and hosted by Carla Ferrell, DJ Mike Swift, Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh. It will be held from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. at the Woldenberg Riverfront Park. From Friday through Sunday night, for the price of admission (ranging from $75 to $500), patrons can enjoy the mainstage artists as well the singers and groups performing in the “super lounges” at the Dome. Festivalgoers can catch performances by Big Daddy Kane, Jody Watley, Leela James, Anthony David, Bilal and Faith Evans, among many others.

At the convention center, the Empowerment Experience will feature workshops tackling social concerns and controversial issues in education, employment, health care, parenting and empowerment strategies in the workplace. The MSNBC-TV news network has announced plans to broadcast portions of the Essence Festival featuring the Rev. Al Sharpton and Melissa Harris-Perry. TV One has announced plans to establish a media outpost at the Essence Festival and feature celebrities from its popular “R&B Divas” reality show.

Rep. John Lewis heads a long list of civic leaders and professional trailblazers contributing to the panel discussions at the Empowerment Experience. These luminaries include Dr. Julianne Malveaux, TV personality Iyanla Vanzant, author and comedian Steve Harvey, National Urban League President Marc Morial and educator Steve Perry. In addition, a traveling exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute will be on display.

Plan ahead and book your flights because the Essence Festival is here once again, and it will be bigger than ever before. Go to www.essence.com to purchase concert tickets and to find discounts on hotels.