As the Essence Music Festival enters the last year of its commitment to the city of New Orleans, there is some doubt that it will return there in future years.

A bold mix of seasoned stars and emerging artists stirs up this year's Essence Music Festival, whose "Party With a Purpose" is in the final stage of its three-year commitment to the city of New Orleans.

But will the three-day event -- which runs Thursday (July 5) through Saturday in the Louisiana Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center -- return in future years?

Letena Spriggs, public relations manager for Essence Communications Inc., said no decision has yet been made on the festival's future plans. "Our focus now is just on making our seventh annual festival the best festival that we can," Spriggs said. "We will evaluate the entire event afterward."

About 182,000 people attended last year's festival, which also features free, daily empowerment seminars with a range of scholars and political, business, religious and social leaders. Similar attendance is expected this year.

Among the hot acts to appear in the Big Easy are Destiny's Child, Jill Scott, Patti LaBelle, the O'Jays, and Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly. Also scheduled are Eric Benet, Jeffrey Osborne, Erykah Badu, Angie Stone, the Whispers, Teena Marie, and the Dells. The festival also will showcase gospel music with a performance by Yolanda Adams.

"Essence stands by itself," said Jackie Harris, executive director of the city's Music and Entertainment Commission. "It's a celebration of African-American culture which fosters an environment, an ambiance like that of a family reunion. The selection of artists allows us to celebrate the new with the old, while the empowerment seminars allow us an opportunity to get together and bond nationally."

Harris said New Orleans wants the festival to return and it has been courting Ed Lewis, chief executive officer of Essence Communications Partners and publisher of Essence magazine.

If the music festival doesn't return, it would mean a $100 million economic loss to New Orleans. "The summer was very lean before Essence," Harris said. "It's one of the few events that came to table and we wouldn't want to lose it."

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