NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Lalah Hathaway's smooth alto voice resonates, holding the audience inside the crowded Superlounge at the Essence Music Festival spellbound.
``That's what I want,'' Hathaway said before taking the stage, ``for them to walk away from my performance in a dream-like state.''
She got her wish.
John Dixon of Miami said Sunday night Hathaway has a realness and depth to her voice that is unmatched by anyone in the industry.
``Jill Scott comes close, but Lalah is just excellent and she's who I came to hear,'' he said.
``She's a true vocalist,'' said Rod Boykin of Houston. ``She's able to connect with an audience like no other and the people, her fans, can feel it. She always delivers.''
Hathaway said she has no difficulty staying true to her music.
``I can only be me,'' she said. ``It's just one of those things. I've been blessed to be able to tell a story with my voice, through my music. If it makes you happy or angry or sad, it just does. And that's great.''
During the set, which included instrumental interludes by her band, Hathaway entertained with jokes and glimpses into her social-networking world on venues like Facebook and Twitter.
But, mostly, she sang.
``She has such a beautiful voice and she sings with a real artistry,'' Adrienne Dixson, of Columbus, Ohio, said in awe.
Hillary Williams and his wife, Kenitha, swayed and sang along when Hathaway sang ``Summertime'' and ``Forever, For Always, For Love.''
``I think she's a phenomenal singer and artist,'' said Williams, of New Orleans. ``She's one of the draws and why we decided to come to the festival this year. We caught her act in Houston a while back and we've been fans ever since. She just gets better and better.''
Dixson said she loves the fact that Hathaway sings in the more intimate setting of the festival's superlounges, but wishes she could more exposure from the festival's main stage on the floor of the Louisiana Superdome.
Hathaway said many people have said similar things to her after past performances at the festival.
``I can't lie though,'' she said. ``I love the superlounges. I love the immediacy of making contact with every single person in the room.''
Hathaway surprised her fans Sunday with a rendition of ``A Song For You,'' a signature song by her father, the late Donny Hathaway.
``I usually don't sing this song in my acts,'' she told them, ``but when Patti Labelle asked me to sing it (recently) I decided to put it in our act.''
The crowd roared their approval as the song's opening bars echoed in the room.
She's been asked what is her favorite song, sung by him, but it's a question she says she can't answer. ``That's like asking which finger don't I need,'' she said.
In addition, she said she never gets tired of being compared to her father. ``It's kind of like, when people call you on the phone and they think you're your mother. It's just that same thing. It's just a piece of who I am.''