NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For years, R&B singer Anthony Hamilton has packed the smaller stages at the Essence Music Festival. This year, though, Hamilton scored a closing Sunday night spot on the festival's main stage, something he's been seeking ever since he got a taste of the event.
"So many years have gone by with me wanting to be on that stage," Hamilton told The Associated Press. "This is such a huge accomplishment for me that didn't come easily."
The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, wearing a flowing tangerine-colored dress, opened her show with "(Your Love has Lifted me) Higher and Higher" ''Natural Woman" and "Think." Midway through her performance, she left the stage so the festival could pay special tribute to her life and career as part of a ceremony where she received its Power Award. A video montage and brief history of her career was played for the audience before she returned wearing an olive- and gold-colored dress.
"We honor Ms. Aretha Franklin for having the greatest voice of all time," said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recognized Franklin's longevity in the industry and talent with awards from the state and city. "You are the essence of Essence," Dardenne said.
Franklin thanked them all "for these very wonderful and significant awards" and then returned to the music with her hit "Chain of Fools." She also played piano on several of songs, including "Bridge Over Troubled Water."
At the end of her performance, R&B superstar Chaka Khan returned for an encore show that included the newly comprised R&B Divas — Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Monifah Carter, Syleenah Johnson and Keke Wyatt — who paid tribute to the R&B artists who died during the past year, including Whitney Houston.