Essence Music Fest: Will Aretha Franklin Sing Every Song She’s Ever Recorded This Weekend?

Only time will tell — so we hope concert-goers have a lot of it

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Aretha Franklin performs at Radio City Music Hall on February 18, 2012 in New York City.

Aretha Franklin has released dozens of albums since she was first recorded, along with her preacher father, on a 1956 gospel record. Between those dozens of albums, there are hundreds of songs; a recent box set of her work with Columbia Records between 1960–1965, just five years out of a decades-spanning career, contains 10 hours of material on a dozen CDs. But apparently guests at this weekend’s Essence Music Festival in New Orleans may be in for even more Aretha Franklin than that—as in, all the Aretha Franklin there is.

“Aretha Franklin says she’s going to sing everything she ever recorded,” Michelle Ebanks, President of Essence Communications, tells TIME. “I’m not sure. We may be there a whole week.”

(MORE: 10 Questions for Aretha Franklin)

The festival—an annual celebration of African-American music and culture that was started to celebrated Essence magazine (which is owned by Time Inc.) and is now in its 18th year—has only scheduled about an hour and a half for Franklin’s big performance (Sunday night at 9:40 pm), part of the festival’s finale, but if the Queen of Soul wants more time, who knows what could happen. Franklin herself did not respond to requests for comment on her set list but, in any case, singing won’t be all she’s up to in New Orleans: she’ll also receive the first-ever Power Award from Essence, given in honor of the festival’s 2012 theme “The Power of Our Voice.”

“We thought about power in the sense of the ability to change lives and the ability to capture emotion that really propels people forward,” explains Ebanks. “In the anthems that Aretha Franklin has given us, there’s truly reflected that ability to change lives.” That recognition of what Franklin, who turned 70 this year, represents is the occasion for the potentially epic A-to-Z show. “We’re celebrating her and she’s celebrating her music, which has been the soundtrack to the lives of so many of those who will be in attendance,” she says.

(MOREHappy Birthday Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul Turns 70)

Franklin’s set is the penultimate event in a weekend full of music at the New Orleans Superdome; she will be followed by a multi-diva tribute to artists who have died during the past year. The full festival schedule is available here but highlights include:

  • D’Angelo, who just last month performed for the first time in 12 years
  • Legends like the Pointer Sisters, Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige
  • Hometown brass bands, including the Rebirth Brass Band
  • Young artists who are just getting discovered, like the OMG Girlz
  • Others such as Trey Songz, Tank, Fantasia, Estelle, Eve and Melanie Fiona

(MORERapper Eve on Essence Music Festival, Her New Album and the Next Generation of Female MCs)

The festival will also feature the first-ever “block party,” a free and open daily event at the outdoor Champions Square space, hosted by DJs like Spinderella, Doug E. Fresh and MC Lyte. And, after several years of just music, the festival is bringing back comedy, with Kevin Hart, of the best-selling Laugh At My Pain tour and movies like Think Like A Man, making a Saturday main-stage appearance. The program began yesterday and runs through Sunday…but, once Aretha Franklin takes the stage, Sunday may be much more than 24 hours long.

More information on the Essence Music Festival, which takes place July 5 – 8 is available here.

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