Photos: Essence Music Festival 2012
Aretha Franklin performs during the 2012 Essence Music Festival on July 8, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The last day of the 2012 Essence Music festival belonged to the divas of R&B and soul: on Sunday night (July 9), legends not only took the main stage of the Superdome, but paid tribute to other fallen legends, such as Whitney Houston, Etta James and more.


PHOTOS: Essence Music Festival 2012

After Aretha Franklin played a tender cover of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" behind the keys, Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Keke Wyatt, Syleena Johnson, and Monifah Carter -- all cast members of TV One's upcoming reality show, the aptly titled "R&B Divas" -- walked onstage, one after the other, to pay tribute to the legends that have passed this year, including Vesta Williams, Etta James, Donna Summer, Nick Ashford and Donna Summer.

Chaka Khan closed this year's festival as a "secret" headliner, although whispers of her appearance have been circulating throughout the Superdome since Friday. Chaka's sass and vocal prowess kept the crowd on their feet till the early morning.

More Essence Fest Recaps: Friday | Saturday

What happened before the divas took the stage? Check out these seven things seen and heard from the last night of the 2012 Essence Music Festival:

1. Aretha Franklin, donning a bright orange flowing dress, performed classics from the abundance under her garter belt, including, "Chain of Fools," "Natural Woman," "Something He Can Feel" and more. Mid-set, Aretha left the stage, and a video screen paid tribute to her legacy before she was presented with its Power Award.

2. But Aretha's set wasn't anything of the ordinary. Close to the end of her performance, she would shout out family members, randomly get irritated with the sound and offer the first row stuffed animals before stepping off stage. Such random acts from Aretha, coupled with the mid-tempo vibes of her performance, caused a few fans to drift away themselves.

3 After Aretha closed her two-hour set, running behind schedule, Faith Evans, Nicci Gilbert, Keke Wyatt, Syleena Johnson, and Monifah Carter surprised concert-goers with a tribute to fallen legends, such as Vesta Williams, Donna Summer, Etta James, Nick Ashford, and Whitney Houston.

4. Close to 1 a.m. on Sunday night, Chaka Khan strutted onstage and performed a short but ever-so-sweet set. Songs like "I'm Every Woman," "What Cha' Gonna Do for Me," "Tell Me Something Good," and "Sweet Thing" kept the crowd on their feet, swaying back and forth.

"I'm Chaka Khan. I ain't going no where," the legend declared before closing the festival.

5. Although a familiar face to Essence festival, Anthony Hamilton finally moved up from the Superlounges to the main stage this year. Hamilton warmed up the crowd as he danced with his fans off-stage to his stack of soulful songs, including "Comin' From Where I'm From," "Cool," and "Survivor."

6. Eve represented for hip-hop and female emcees when taking the Verizon Wireless Superlounge stage twice last night, at 8:45 and 10:15 pm. She basked in nostalgia, performing hits as "Who's That Girl," "Love is Blind," "Gangsta Lovin,'" and "Tambourine."

7. Carl Thomas took 90s R&B fans down memory lane, as the dapper singer sang fan favorites like "I Wish," "So Emotional" (without Faith Evans unfortunately), "Summer Rain," and even his latest, "Don't Kiss Me," from his fourth studio album, "Conquer." The singer's voice sounded as pristine as from when he first stepped into the scene in the late 90s.