NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Essence Festival, which draws thousands to New Orleans during the fourth of July week, is celebrating 25 years of bringing African American women of all ages together for thought-proving conversation and performances from top musical acts.

The festival was launched to mark the 25th anniversary of black-owned Essence magazine. The event highlights excellence in business, fashion, entertainment and music.

Mary J. Blige has been a frequent performer at the festival. The Grammy Award-winning singer says she never doubted it would reach the quarter-century mark. Blige performs Saturday and is marking the 25th anniversary of her "My Life," album.

The festival is July 5-7. It is broken down into two parts: daytime activities and panel discussions mainly held at the convention center and nighttime music and concerts at the Superdome.

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