Mary J. Blige, Singer, Songwriter, Actress & Philanthropist
Mary J. Blige tells the story of what music means to her, and how it ultimately saved her life.
Mary J. Blige
Singer, Songwriter, Actress and Philanthropist
Mary J. Blige tells the story of what music means to her, and how it ultimately saved her life.
Iconic Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress and philanthropist, Mary J. Blige is a figure of inspiration, transformation and empowerment making her one of the defining voices of the contemporary music era. With a track record of eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards (plus a staggering 32 nominations), a 2012 Golden Globe nomination, and five American Music Awards, Blige is a global superstar. And in the ensuing years, the singer/songwriter has attracted an intensely loyal fan base—responsible for propelling worldwide sales of more than 50 million albums.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Blige began moving people with her soulful voice when at 18 she signed with Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records in 1989, becoming the MCA-distributed label’s youngest and first female artist. Influenced at an early age by the music of Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Gladys Knight, Blige brought her own gritty, urban-rooted style—fusing hip-hop, soul and honest, frank lyrics—to the forefront on her 1992 debut album What’s the 411? The multi-platinum set, executive produced by Sean “Diddy” Combs, quickly spun off several hits, including two No. R&B No. 1s: You Remind Me and Real Love.
Blige helped redefine R&B and began forging a unique niche for herself on the more personal second album, 1994’s My Life. Blige is an artist that uses her gift of song to lift spirits and touch lives while bringing her heart, soul and truth to those who are willing to listen. She is loved for her passionate, chart-topping hits like “Be Without You”, “No More Drama” and “Family Affair” all of which have made her a force in music.
And thus began the Blige movement: connecting legions of fans that identify with and have accompanied her throughout her personal travails and growth—all fearlessly related through her music. Each subsequent album reads like a chapter from an autobiography: Share My World (1997), Mary (1999), No More Drama (2001), Love & Life (2003), the multiple Grammy-winning and hit-spewing The Breakthrough (2005), Growing Pains (2007) and Stronger with Each Tear (2009). Along the way, she’s lined up a string of hit singles, including Not Gon’ Cry, Love Is All We Need, Seven Days, All That I Can Say, Family Affair and Just Fine.
In October 2013, Blige for Matriarch Records/Verve Records/Interscope Records released her first-ever holiday album titled, A Mary Christmas in collaboration with legendary producer, David Foster. Blige's holiday album features her soulful interpretation of classic holiday tunes including Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and The Christmas Song. Blige is joined by a number of A-list guests, such as Barbra Streisand, and duets with Jessie J, The Clark Sisters and Spanish collaboration with Mark Anthony.
Blige, who co-penned I Can See in Color for 2009’s Precious soundtrack, has branched out into acting. She appeared in Tyler Perry’s dramatic comedy, I Can Do Bad All By Myself in 2009 and starred in Rock of Ages, alongside Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russel Brand in 2012. Taking on a more dramatic role, in 2013, she starred as Betty Shabazz in the TV movie Betty & Coretta, a biographical story about the widows of Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. Then in November 2013 Mary J. Blige starred as the mysterious guardian angel “Platinum Fro,” in the holiday musical film drama Black Nativity. Ramping up her acting career, Blige has guest-starred on the ABC comedy, Black-ish and the FOX musical drama Empire and as well as playing Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West, on the NBC musical, The Wiz LIVE!
In 2014, Blige released her 13th studio album, The London Sessions, which reached the No.1 position on the Top R&B Albums chart and included a behind-the-scene documentary of her recording sessions that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2015.
Blige recently completed The King and Queen of Hearts World Tour with Maxwell and is finalizing her 14th album titled Strength of a Woman, slated for release April 28. Her single, “Thick of It,” held the number 1 spot on the Urban AC Chart for 16 consecutive weeks after its release in November.
Blige most recently guest starred on ABC’s, How to Get Away with Murder and is starring in MUDBOUND, opposite Carey Mulligan and Garrett Hedlund, which premiered to rave reviews this year at Sundance.
- To my 15 year old self, I would say believe in who you are. You are going to move people. Don't be afraid of the power that you have. Just go out there and let people see you. I was born in the Bronx. My Dad was a funk band musician and my Mom was a soul queen. She got a scholarship for singing but she got pregnant with my sister. So her dream died. My family didn't really encourage singing for me because singing was an escape for them. The children feel it the worst especially living in the Projects. We kinda just had to block everything out in order to survive. I knew that I could sing because my school teachers would ask me to be in talent shows and I would blow everybody away. I definitely used singing as an escape from the environment that we were living in. I felt like I had wings. Like I could fly and get away from any situation. Like I was alive. They drove to my house when they heard the tape and wanted to hear me sing in person. I blew him away obviously but it wasn't an overnight success because Uptown Records didn't know what to do with someone like me. This girl that's from the hood, what are we gon' do with her? So I was kinda shelved for a little while until Puffy came into my life. And he was from Harlem. What Puffy saw in me was what was in my eyes, what was in my heart, what was in my walk, what was in my talk. It was pain. It was struggle but it was also a little twink of belief that something was gonna happen. When my first record took off, we were still living in the Projects. People are buying your records. They wanna see you. People in the neighborhood wanted to kill you for it so you pluck this girl from the hood and throw her in all of this stuff and so she's gonna survive the only way she knows how. I was resorting to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. People from the outside looking in would think that everything was great. But I was in a hell. I was spiraling down. I didn't think I was gonna make it. It was like Woah, okay now what? Sing for your life, literally. Sing for your life. ♪ Ooh baby, I'm going down ♪ ♪ I'm going down ♪ ♪ Cause you ain't around, baby ♪ ♪ My whole world's upside down ♪ I didn't think anybody would pay attention to my call for help. But my fan base did. They all came out and they bought my record. When I was finally trying to wake up, I realized that, I can't do this anymore. I can't sell death and oppression. I can save lives. I have to figure out a way to uplift us and be a woman of empowerment and strength. So I took all this depression and all this oppression that I was dealing with and just put it in my music. I made the choice. I chose life. I hope that my audience are inspired by the words of my songs and I hope that they can see my strength, see my courage, see that I'm never gonna give up. I still have problems just like you. I still cry. I'm not playing a game out here. It's real. It makes me feel like I'm doing my job. Whatever I've been sent to this earth to do. So now that I have it and I love it, I'm never gonna let it go.
- What I saw that I thought was unique but at the same time it's nostalgic that was happening in London was the fact that artists can just be who they are. They didn't have to follow one another to be the hottest thing. You know, the way they played songs on the radio, they played 'em like they played 'em back in the days. You heard Luther Vandross. Then you heard Cara Swann. Then you heard Patti LaBelle, but this was all on one station. Then you heard Michael Jackson. This is what really inspired me over in London to just be Mary J. Blige. Do what I do, and not become a needle in a haystack, and not follow what the next person's doing. Do what you do. Do what you love. Believe in it, and then everyone else is gonna believe in it.
- You have the Taylor Swifts and the Sam Smith's who are amazing. Who are at the top of the food chain when it comes to their career. But the most beautiful, important thing about them is that they are successful for being true to themselves and believing in themselves. When you've been in this business for, like, 20 something years, it starts to chip at you that you're not doing the right thing. You need to try something else because what Mary J. Blige has done, who she has been is not working anymore. So, looking at them is inspiring me. Like, that's not true because these kids are killing it and they are who they are. They're inspiring me to continue to do and be exactly what I've been, how I've been moving my fans for years.
- My life is important to me so I don't wanna die anymore. I did at one time but I don't wanna die anymore. I want to live. I want my family to see me live. I want my mom to see me live. I hope that my audience at this point in my life, at this stage in my life, see that I'm tenacious and that I love my life. It's my most prized possession. I hope that they can see that and be inspired and want to feel the same way about their lives. And also see that at the end of the day, "Gosh, this chick "is really a real person."
- As a child I was quiet. I wasn't a troublemaker. But I definitely, into the trouble. I defended myself very well, I was smart, I loved school up until like high school and I always loved music, loved, loved music. I was always a singer, my mom told me, when I was a little kid she said you would sing everywhere, would sing around the house, I would sing in the tub, whatever. I always wanted to know things, I was very inquisitive and very intuitive and just curious about life.
- I know I wasn't the first to add an R&B voice to hip hop. The first to do that was Caron Wheeler from Soul II Soul. One of my favorite songs, one of the songs that inspired me in my life that made me believe that something was gonna happen to me was Keep On Movin'. They used the Pickin' Boogers sample from Biz Markie and then they let Caron Wheeler sing over it, so she was the first to do it. I don't think people were really paying attention to what was going on but when I did it, you actually recognized the Audio Two sample, the milk is chillin', Giz is chillin' we did Real Love. We were dancing to that in the clubs, so it was something fresh, it wasn't something like an old sample, it made such an impact, it made people take notice and say I wanna do that too and it's been happening since I came out and it's still happening. So we opened the door for that.
- It feels great to have been around so long, to have the legacy that I have. It feels amazing and it helps me get through my life. When I remember what I've done and what I've accomplished, the things and the negative things that anyone has to say means nothing because I worked hard. I worked for everything I have. And now there's a new generation standing on my shoulders like I stand on Aretha's shoulders and Chaka's shoulders. I would want them to continue to believe in themselves and don't be afraid of who they are so that we can have great music that's diverse and not just one artist sounding like the next artist and the next artist. Be yourself 'cause no one can do that better than you.
- I think what Puffy saw in me is what he saw in his environment growing up, just being fresh off the block, fresh outta the hood. He just cultivated me. He saw that I was a more of a tomboy than anything, so he dressed me like he would dress Jodeci, or like he would dress himself. When everything did take off, it was like whoa, okay. Now what? And the craziest part is that when my first record took off, we were still living in the projects. We were still living in that environment so it was like scary. Now we really gotta fight for our lives because people can't handle that kind of success and you're still in the hood. The business was happy but people around me weren't happy, they weren't happy for me. So I can't describe it but the only person that made me happy when they came around was Puffy.
- Chaka Khan gave me some of the best advice that I've probably gotten in my life. To get it from her, someone I absolutely love, it just meant absolutely meant and means so much to me. And it was to get out of my own way. It's still very powerful right now because when I'm in the way, everything goes wrong. I'm constantly forgiving myself. Not only for the younger years but just for the mistakes I make now. I'm forgiving myself really quick because when you don't that's when you end up down. But when I move and let God do what he does or the best in me do what I do, everything is amazing.
- I feel like I have come through enough trials to deserve to feel free. I've come through those trials with honesty not with pointing my fingers at someone else but with really dealing with the truth. People can come into your life and they can patch you up for a while but only you can fix it because only you know the truth about you and that's the only thing that's gonna make you free. And that's what I've done. I've been dealing with the real truth. Not the what you did but the what I did and what am I doing. That's the best feeling in the world.
- Sometimes, you could be too hurt to give anything. Sometimes I found myself being really, really hurt. You're sometimes just too hurt. I can't do this right now. I can't even give this to the people right now. This is too much. I have to wait 'til I'm well enough to do this. You have to sit back, because, you know, when you're too emotional, you can really mess up. You can offend people. You can hurt yourself, so you have to sit back and think about it, you know, and, what you're gonna do, what you're gonna say. You know, the right way.
- I was absolutely feeling the hell in the neighborhood. By the time I got to high school, I wasn't asking any questions. The environment had sucked us dry of just wanting to even know or ask. It was like you put your head down, you do your work, and hope you graduate, get good grades, or in my case, just cut school. And it really affected me so bad. By the time I got to high school, I didn't even wanna be in high school anymore, I was like, I just can't take this anymore. But the music again, singing was my only friend, it really helped me to survive.
- The song Doubt, she heard me sing it at the Clive Davis pre Grammy party was the first time she heard me and she, when I got off stage, she was like, "Oh my God, this song I love." And so I mentioned it back to her when it was time for us to do the show and she was like, "Yeah, let's do that." I had no idea that she was dealing with self doubt and stuff like that but the truth is everyone's dealing with it. The way she set it up was amazing. She does the first verse and then I come out and then we trade off and it's magic, it's magical, it's crazy. I like Taylor. I've always loved Taylor Swift. She's always been someone, I love her songs. It's surprising to people but I don't know why. I like great songs. She's a great artist.
- I already mastered the singing. I could do that in my sleep, but this acting thing. I'm gonna go hard and work for it because it's something that I've always wanted to do. The very first time my music teacher put me in a play, I knew that acting was something that I wanted to do. So, that's my next endeavor. That's the next thing I'm going hard after.