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Erykah Badu, Sheila E., Babyface & Fantasia highlight Dell Music Center's summer lineup

The Thursday night series kicks off with Jaheim, Johnny Gill and After 7 on July 6.

The 2017 summer Essence of Entertainment lineup at the Dell Music Center, the open-air amphitheater in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city, has been announced.

The leading light is Erykah Badu, the fabulous funkstress and bandleader who headlines an Aug. 10 bill with Ro James. Badu most recently played the Dell in 2015.

The lineup kicks off July 6 with an R&B heartthrob triple bill of Jaheim, Johnny Gill, and After 7.  The following Thursday's bill is older school, with the Dramatics, Bloodstone, Intruders, and Harold Melvin's Blue Notes.

American Idol star Fantasia performs  Aug. 3 with '90s smooth R&B singer Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds. Former Prince associate Sheila E. is on for Aug. 17 with bass great Larry Graham in a show that's sure to turn into a tribute to the Purple One. (Not sure where Dave Koz, the light-jazz sax man, fits into that bill.)

The Essence of Entertainment schedule ends with the "Joy And Pain" of Maze featuring Frankie Beverly on Aug. 24. The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra and Philadanco will also perform at the Dell this summer, but dates have not yet been announced.

Last month, it was announced that this year's benefit for ex-Eagle Connor Barwin's MTWB Foundation would be held at the Dell on Sept. 21 with rock band the War on Drugs. That could signal the beginning of wide-ranging acts from disparate music genres playing the Dell in the future.

But as this season's Essence slate of acts makes clear, the venue has no plans to abandon its mission of serving the African American community. "It's always going to be a venue that offers R&B and gospel," the Dell's Susan Slawson said last month.

See the entire schedule here. Badu's "Phone Down" is below.