Mary J. Blige – Black History Month

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Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige was given birth to on January 11, 1971. At the age of 17-year, Blige was singing karaoke, which came to the attention of Uptown Records, the company that put Mary J. under contract instantly. She sang back-up until the 1992 release of her first single album, What’s the 411?, a record that re-defined contemporary soul. Blige has had several No. 1 Billboard hits and has won nine Grammy Awards.

Mary J. in the studio recording

Very Early Living

Born in Bronx, New York, Mary J. Blige won over millions of fans with her music. But before becoming a powerful hip-hop singer, Blige experienced a hellish childhood spoiled by violence, drinking and drugs. Her mother, Cora Blige, was a registered nurse as well as an alcoholic; her father, Thomas Blige, was a jazz musician and performer who played the bass guitar, in addition to being a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. "My mother dealt with dreadful abuse from my father," Blige once recalled. "He left us when I was 4, but he would come back every now and then and abuse my mother some more."

At the beginning of er career

Looking to escape from her father, Blige and her mother relocated in the direction of Schlobohm Houses, a community housing project in Yonkers. The projects provided only more fear: "I’d hear women screaming and running down the halls from guys whipping them. People chased us with weapons. I never saw a woman there who hadn’t been abused. It was an unsafe place. Nobody wanted anyone else to find a way to get ahead. When I was five, sexual stuff ended up being done to me. My mommy was obviously a single parent, a working woman. She left us with people she believed could be trusted. They hurt me."

Blige found escape from her childhood in church and in music. "I adored being at church because I wouldn’t be hurt." "I felt wanted and special. When I was 12, I sang the hymn ‘Lord, Help Me To Hold Out Until My Change Has Come.’ I was praying as I sang the song. I felt the Spirit." Nevertheless, by the time she turned 16, she had dropped out of school, halted attending church, and became dependent on drugs and sex. "I wound up becoming my environment," Blige mentioned. "It was bigger than me. I had absolutely no self-respect. I disliked myself. I believed I was ugly. Alcohol, sex, and drugs. I did whatever it took to feel a little better."

Beginning Career

Blige’s voice rescued her from the tragic lifestyle into which she was quickly falling. "Everybody talked about the karaoke machine at the mall," she recalled. "So I went in and recorded Anita Baker’s ‘Caught Up in the Rapture’ on a cassette tape. I didn’t believe it was anything big." After four years of sending out her demo tape with no success, Blige managed to get the recording to Uptown Records CEO Andre Harrell, who was amazed by her beautiful, powerful and soulful voice. He signed Blige to a recording contract in 1992 and designated a young up-and-coming music producer named Sean "Puffy" Combs to work alongside her. Blige launched her debut album, What’s the 411?, later that year, and it immediately became a huge success. The album sold more than 3 million copies behind the hit singles "You Remind Me" and "Real Love."

A couple of years later, Blige released another album, My Life, on which she wrote or co-wrote nearly all of the songs. My Life confirmed another critical and popular success with singles such as "Be Happy," "Mary Jane (All Night Long)" and "You Bring Me Joy." In 1996, she received her first Grammy Award (best rap performance by a duo or group) for "I’ll be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By, " a duet with Method Man of the Wu-Tang Clan. Her 3rd album, 1997’s Share My World, attained No. 1 on the Billboard albums chart.

Individual Challenges

Although her music had been adored by fans and critics alike, behind her professional success Blige’s personal life persisted to get out of hand. "I didn’t know my own value," she said. "I was ignorant. The people making money off me held me blind: ‘Mary likes cocaine? OK, let’s make certain she continues getting it. Alcohol? Get her that.’" Blige ultimately was able to switch her life around when she connected with and fell in love with a music executive named Kendu Isaacs. "After I met him, all things changed in my life," she said. "He was the first person who really challenge what I did: ‘Why are you drinking? Why do you dislike yourself? You don’t have to continue to be around people who rip you down. You are beautiful, Mary.’ He was the first man to ever tell me that." Blige and Isaacs married in 2003, and she’s a stepmother to his three children.

Mary J. Blige and her husband, Kendu Isaacs

In 2001, Blige introduced an album fittingly titled No More Drama. The recording features her most popular song to date, "Family Affair," which was probably the most popular song of the decade and continues to be a classic of the hip-hop heart and soul genre. Following her 2003 album Love & Life earned only lukewarm reviews, Blige recorded her most popular and acclaimed album to date, The Breakthrough, in 2005. In addition to selling greater than 7 million copies around the world, The Breakthrough was selected for eight Grammy Awards and gained three, for best R&B album, best R&B song and best R&B female vocal performance (for the song "Be Without You"). Blige carried on to put out new albums, including Growing Pains (2007) and Stronger with Each Tear (2009).

Mary J. styling in a lovely dress

Modern Projects

In 2011, Blige added a track, "The Living Proof," to her soundtrack of the hit film The Help. She published the album My Life: Part II … The Journey Continues, which grew to become a top five hit. The record featured "Mr. Wrong," a collaboration with Drake. The next year, Blige celebrated the twenty fifth anniversary of her breakthrough debut What’s the 411? with a new version of this classic album. Known as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige is unquestionably among the great vocialist of her era. She has sold more than 50 million albums and has won nine Grammy Awards.

Along with music, Blige has branched out into acting. She made an appearance in Tyler Perry’s dramatic comedy I Can Do Bad All By Myself (2009). Blige also sang in the 2012 musical motion picture Rock of Ages along with Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand. Accepting an even more traumatic role, she’ll appear as Dr. Betty Shabazz, the widow of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X, in Betty & Loretta. Angela Bassett co-stars as Loretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr. This tv movie is exploring the lives of these two women during the wake of their husbands’ deaths.

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