Diana Ross, Mary J. Blige, John Legend headline 2017 Essence

AP News
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Posted: Dec 15, 2016 8:34 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For the first time, music icon Diana Ross brings her star power to a stage at the 2017 Essence Festival in New Orleans.

Ross was among the headliners announced Thursday for the festival annually held in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"This is big," said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc., on getting Ross to agree to perform. "We've wanted her to join us forever and we're so happy she finally said 'yes!' She's just off receiving the presidential medal of honor and she's just, like President Obama said, a part of the American soundtrack. She represents grace and glamour and we couldn't be more excited."

Ebanks said the Essence brand is about the "triumph of the everyday woman."

"Diana Ross is that. She grew up in the housing projects in Detroit and now basks in international stardom. As a community we can just enjoy so many chapters in our lives by listening to her soundtrack," she said.

Joining Ross at the 23rd annual event, presented by Coca-Cola, will be R&B's Mary J. Blige, John Legend, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, India.Arie, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway and first-timer Michel'le.

"We've always looked as the festival as a place for fans to discover new music and new artists. We want to be that platform that supports new artists and introduces them to an audience impassioned about music," Ebanks said.

Blige, a festival veteran, returns in 2017 to headline a special night themed "My Path to Strength," at which she will introduce her highly anticipated project, "Strength of a Woman."

"It will launch at the top of next year," Ebanks said of Blige's new work. "She tells her life story and it's no distance between Mary and black women. It's a very intimate, warm relationship and as she has said in the past, she puts her arms around that Essence audience and we all party together. She doesn't let go until it's over."

Others on tap for the festival scheduled June 30-July 2 include Doug E Fresh, Master P, Moses Sumney, Ro James, Shaggy, Solange, Teyana Taylor, Trombone Shorty, Tweet, Yuna and Sir the Baptist.

Ebanks said be on the lookout for more artists to be named to the lineup in January. "This is just the first wave," she said. "There's more coming."

Weekend ticket packages, starting at $126, go on sale Friday.