Oprah Winfrey To Make 1st Appearance At 2016 Essence Festival

Oprah Winfrey

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – 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 4:00 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.

         Film producer Will Packer is also 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."

         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 of whom are scheduled to perform inside the Superdome from Friday through Sunday.

         "We've wanted her to perform at the festival for years," said Essence Communications Inc. President Michelle Ebanks of Carey. "She is such an extraordinary talent."

         At a news conference Thursday, Ebanks said she was thrilled to return to New Orleans. When she arrived, she said everywhere she went people were welcoming her home: "And that's what this weekend feels like, not just for me but for all those who attend."

         Continuing with its theme to "party with a purpose," organizers have prepared an "empowerment experience" in the city's convention center that includes insight into current events and beauty and fashion trends as well as opportunities for entrepreneurs to get help growing their businesses.

         Ebanks said launching the free "Money & Power" Expo Entrepreneurship Village is a "natural fit for us."

         "We've found that a number of people were attending the festival to business network," Ebanks said. "There were organic networking forums popping up at the festivals in previous years, and we found that people are really hungry for this kind of opportunity."

         That's exactly why Alejandra Y. Castillo, national director of the Minority Business Development Agency, said they've returned this year to partner with Essence. Last year, she said the MBDA did a two-day workshop during the festival to "test the waters."

         "We absolutely saw a hunger for more," she said. "We also noticed there were more organizations doing similar things around the festival and thought, 'Why not bring them all together under the same tent?'"

         Castillo noted that African-American women are one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the country, starting businesses at rates six times faster than the national level. "During these three magical days, there will be a lot of robust workshops on technical assistance, grant opportunities and on how to help this market leap, run and grow their businesses," she said.

         The entrepreneur expo will be part of the festival's empowerment sessions that also include demonstrations, author signings, celebrity meet-and-greets and a celebration of gospel talent.

         Ebanks said they also plan Sunday to remember Prince, the icon who died April 21. Prince performed twice at the festival but also was instrumental in some of the festival's programming.

         "Our editors are releasing a tribute book to him that will be available during the festival and we'll also do a tribute to him on stage," she said.

         Performances are scheduled by Prince's band, the New Power Generation, as well as Larry Graham, Marsha Ambrosius, Kelly Price, D-Nice and Doug E. Fresh. New Orleans' natives Luke James, the Stooges Brass Band and the Roots of Music also will take the stage and participate in a special second line in Prince's honor, Ebanks said.

         – by AP Reporter Chevel Johnson



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