NEW ORLEANS- More than 422,000 people took part in the 2011 Essence Music Festival held over the Fourth of July weekend in New Orleans, festival organizers said Tuesday.
For three days, thousands gathered for nightly concerts inside the Louisiana Superdome and free daily empowerment and community-based events at the city's convention center where the festival, presented by Coca-Cola, celebrated its 17th anniversary.
Citywide hotel occupancy was in the mid-90 percent range or higher throughout the weekend.
"This year's attendance ... certainly underscores the significance of the Essence Music Festival as the place where we all come together to celebrate culture and connect to our community," Essence Communications President Michelle Ebanks said.
Ebanks also said the festival's popularity shows its significance as a one-of-a-kind platform for entertainment, information and inspiration
It's been six years since Kem last took the stage at the Essence Music Festival and following his performance Saturday, he told reporters he was glad to return.
"I'd forgotten what a beautiful, positive event this is," he said. "I'm glad to be a part of it."
Kem surprised fans when he brought New Orleans native Ledisi on stage to perform his current hit duet, "If It's Love," originally recorded with Chrisette Michele on his latest album, "Intimacy." The audience gave the pair a huge roar of applause and approval at the end of the song.
Ledisi said performing with Kem was "amazing."
She said she was floored when the audience stood up to acknowledge her.
"It is so great that people know who I am and that people know my name -- and how to say it," she said, smiling.
During the set, the jazz-influenced contemporary R&B vocalist also took time to acknowledge his faith and to remind people of the power of second chances. Kem spent some time in the spiral of addiction and homelessness in Detroit before turning to God, a move that he has said has helped him get back on track.
In his effort to give back to that community, Kem is hosting a daylong free concert and food drive to benefit the city's homeless on Aug. 28. Morris Day and The Time also are scheduled to participate in Kem Live (at) Mack & Third: A Call To Service
"Mack & Third is about giving back," he said. "I've been fortunate to overcome many obstacles including being addicted and homeless. If it weren't for organizations like the Detroit Rescue Mission ... I wouldn't be where I am today."