The 2012 Essence Festival, scheduled for July 6, 7 and 8 in New Orleans, has announced their initial lineup of talent that mixes a number of esteemed veterans with the best of today's R&B voices.

"The theme of this year's Essence Music Festival celebrates our most powerful voices. Whether it's Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul commanding respect or Rep. Maxine Waters demanding better conditions for our community, these powerful voices resonate with our audience like no other," said Michelle Ebanks, president, Essence Communications Inc. "As we all face a new reality in these critical times, we want to inspire our Festival-goers to leave this year's Festival even more resilient and motivated so that they can be empowered to create change in their own communities."

After another record-breaking year in 2011, this year's line-up promises to be a weekend to remember. Stellar acts leading the list of artists set to perform at the legendary Louisiana Superdome include:

Aretha Franklin
Mary J. Blige
Stephanie Mills
Charlie Wilson
Keyshia Cole
Dru Hill
Raheem DeVaughn
Vivian Green
Kindred the Family Soul
Luke James
Eric Roberson
Big Sam's Funky Nation
Bridget Kelly
The Original Pinettes Brass Band
The Stooges Brass Band
Khris Royal & Dark Matter

In addition, ESSENCE will honor iconic singer Aretha Franklin with "The Power Award." The Queen of Soul previously performed at the Festival in 1995 and 2005.

In addition to the colossal music line-up, the audience can look forward to the annual Essence Empowerment Experience, which is free and open to the public at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Festival-goers will experience three full days of socio-political dialogue, health and wellness discussions and spiritual inspiration led by dynamic motivational speakers. The initial roster of leading authors, speakers and leaders include: Steve Harvey, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rep. Maxine Waters and Dr. Steve Perry. The weekend will culminate on Sunday with a rousing All-star Gospel tribute honoring gospel mega-stars Fred Hammond and Mary Mary.