In place of his planned appearance at the 2003 Essence Music Festival, soul balladeer Luther Vandross will be celebrated during the three-day event. Patti LaBelle, Gerald Levert, Faith Evans, Ashanti,

In place of his planned appearance at the 2003 Essence Music Festival, soul balladeer Luther Vandross will be celebrated during the three-day event. Patti LaBelle, Gerald Levert, Faith Evans, Ashanti, Kelly Price, and the Luther Vandross Band take part in the July 4 salute at New Orleans' Louisiana Superdome. Essence will use part of the proceeds from the concert to make a donation to a charity chosen by the Vandross family.

As previously reported, Vandross has been hospitalized at New York's Weill-Cornell Medical Center since suffering a stroke on April 16. Last week it was reported that he has begun to recognize family and friends is mouthing words, and has started mild physical therapy. Yesterday (June 10), J Records released his latest studio album, "Dance With My Father."

"Essence wants to embrace the outpouring of love and support everyone is offering Luther," Essence's editorial director Susan L. Taylor says in a statement. "So many people have asked us to tell him and his family they are praying for his full recovery. There's no better way to offer our prayers and love to Luther than to tribute him in the slot in which he was to perform."

Performers and festival attendees will be able to contribute to a videogram that will be made during the event and sent to Vandross.

In other festival news, LL Cool J, and actress/comedienne Mo'Nique have been added to the July 4 concert bill, and the Gap Band has joined the July 3 show. Meanwhile, previously announced performers Babyface and P. Diddy and the Bad Boy Family including New Edition, Carl Thomas, and Loon, have dropped out of the festival.

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