steve_harvey_cc_bw_web.jpgNEW ORLEANS (AP) — The three-day Essence Music Festival, held over the Fourth of July weekend, brings together some of the most talented R&B musicians who perform nightly inside the Louisiana Superdome each year. But that's not the only thing the festival is known for.

During the day, the festival holds a free event,  Essence Empowerment Experience, at New Orleans' convention center, where celebrities and community leaders get together to find solutions for various problems affecting minorities.

This year,  the experience is themed “A Weekend of Transformation” and will include appearances by Steve Harvey, Iyanla Vanzant, Terry McMillan, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Soledad O'Brien, Tavis Smiley, Dr. Cornel West, Tom Burrell and Jeff Henderson.

There also will be an all-star gospel salute to CeCe Winans and Marvin Sapp.

In addition, NeNe Leakes and Cynthia Bailey of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, and Shaunie O'Neal, Evelyn Lozada and Tami Roman of Basketball Wives,  will take part in a panel discussion about the portrayal of women in the media.

"The Empowerment Experience is what truly separates Essence from other music festivals,'' said Michelle Ebanks, president of Essence Communications Inc.

"Our audience has the rare opportunity to have their voices heard by engaging with some of our most influential thinkers and leaders, who are shaping conversations around the issues that matter most to our community.''

In addition to those events, the festival's daytime offerings will include a vendor marketplace, interactive sponsor presentations, celebrity meet-and-greets and a book fair with signings by some of the featured authors.

The festival will be held July 1-3.

ON THE NET : For more information ­

Photo: Steve Harvey