Mary J. Blige
Mary J. Blige
Mary Jane Blige
January 11, 1971
New York City, U.S.
|Other names||Brook Lynn|
Martin "Kendu" Isaacs
(m. 2003; div. 2018)
Mary Jane Blige (//; born January 11, 1971) is an American singer, songwriter, actress, and philanthropist. Her career began in 1991 when she was signed to Uptown Records. She went on to release 13 studio albums, eight of which have achieved multi-platinum worldwide sales. Blige has sold 100 million records worldwide. Blige has won nine Grammy Awards, four American Music Awards, twelve Billboard Music Awards and has also received three Golden Globe Award nominations, including one for her supporting role in the film Mudbound (2017) and another for its original song "Mighty River". Furthermore, she also received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song, becoming the first person nominated for acting and songwriting in the same year.
In 1992, Blige released her debut album, What's the 411?, which is credited for introducing the mix of R&B and Hip-Hop into mainstream pop culture, and her 1993 "What's the 411? Remix," popularized rap as a featuring act, it is the first album by a singer to have a rapper on every song. Her 1994 album My Life is among Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and Time magazine's All-Time 100 Albums. She received a Legends Award at the World Music Awards in 2006, and the Voice of Music Award from ASCAP in 2007. Billboard ranked Blige as the most successful female R&B/Hip-Hop artist of the past 25 years. In 2017, Billboard magazine named her 2006 song "Be Without You" as the most successful R&B/Hip-Hop song of all time, as it spent an unparalleled 15 weeks atop the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and over 75 weeks on the chart. In 2011, VH1 ranked Blige as the 80th greatest artist of all time. In 2012, VH1 ranked Blige at number 9 in "The 100 Greatest Women in Music" list.
Blige has also made a successful transition to both the small and silver screens, with supporting roles in films such as Prison Song (2001), Rock of Ages (2012), Betty and Coretta (2013), Black Nativity (2013), her Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated breakthrough performance as Florence Jackson in Mudbound (2017), Trolls World Tour (2020), Body Cam (2020), The Violent Heart (2021) and co-starring as jazz singer Dinah Washington in the upcoming Aretha Franklin biopic Respect (2021). In 2019, Blige starred as Cha-Cha on the first season of the Netflix television series The Umbrella Academy. She currently stars as Monet Tejada in the spin-off of the highly rated TV drama Power in Power Book II: Ghost.
In February 2021, Blige became a first-time nominee for the 2021 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A documentary film about her musical career, titled Mary J. Blige's My Life, was released on Amazon Prime Video later that year.
Life and music career
1971–91: Early life and career beginnings
Blige was born January 11, 1971, in Fordham Hospital in the borough of the Bronx, New York City. She was born to mother Cora, a nurse, and father Thomas Blige, a jazz musician. She is the second of four children. She has an elder sister, LaTonya Blige-DaCosta, a younger brother, Bruce Miller, and a younger sister, Jonquell, from a later relationship Blige's mother had with another man after divorcing Mary and LaTonya's father.
She spent her early childhood in Savannah, Georgia, and Richmond Hill, Georgia, where she sang in a Pentecostal church. She and her family later moved back to New York and resided in the Schlobohm Housing Projects, located in Yonkers. The family subsisted on her mother's earnings as a nurse after her father left the family in the mid-1970s. Her father was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.
At the age of five, she was molested by a family friend, and as a teenager she endured years of sexual harassment from her peers. She would eventually turn to alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex to try and numb the pain. Blige dropped out of high school in her junior year.
Pursuing a musical career, Blige spent a short time in a Yonkers band named Pride with band drummer Eddie D'Aprile. In early 1988, she recorded an impromptu cover of Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture" at a recording booth in the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York. Her mother's boyfriend at the time later played the cassette for Jeff Redd, a recording artist and A&R runner for Uptown Records. Redd sent it to the president and CEO of the label, Andre Harrell. Harrell met with Blige and in 1989 she was signed to the label as a backup vocalist for artists such as Father MC, becoming the company's youngest and first female artist.
1992–96: What's The 411? and My Life
After being signed to Uptown, Blige began working with record producer Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy. He became the executive producer and produced a majority of her first album. The title, What's the 411?, derived from Blige's past occupation as a 4-1-1 operator; it was also an indication by Blige of being the "real deal". What's the 411? nevertheless established Blige as a dynamic storyteller whose performances of love narrative drew upon both her musical influences and her lived experiences as a hip-hop-generation woman. The music was described as "revelatory on a frequent basis". Blige was noted for having a "tough girl persona and streetwise lyrics". On July 28, 1992, Uptown/MCA Records released What's the 411?, to positive reviews from critics. What's the 411? peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It also peaked at number 53 on the UK Albums Chart. It was certified three times Platinum by the RIAA. According to Entertainment Weekly's Dave DiMartino, with the record's commercial success and Blige's "powerful, soulful voice and hip-hop attitude", she "solidly connected with an audience that has never seen a woman do new jack swing but loves it just the same". According to Dave McAleer, Blige became the most successful new female R&B artist of 1992 in the United States.
What's the 411? earned her two Soul Train Music Awards in 1993: Best New R&B Artist and Best R&B Album, Female. It was also voted the year's 30th best album in the Pazz & Jop—an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published by The Village Voice. By August 2010, the album had sold 3,318,000 copies in the US. What's the 411? has since been viewed by critics as one of the 1990s' most important records. Blige's combination of vocals over a hip hop beat proved influential in contemporary R&B. With the album, she was dubbed the reigning "Queen of Hip Hop Soul" The album's success spun off What's the 411? Remix, a remix album released in December that was used to extend the life of the What's the 411? singles on the radio into 1994, as Blige recorded her follow-up album.
Following the success of her debut album and a remixed version in 1993, Blige went into the recording studio in the winter of 1993 to record her second album, My Life. The album was a breakthrough for Blige, who at this point was in a clinical depression, battling both drugs and alcohol – as well as being in an abusive relationship with K-Ci Hailey. On November 29, 1994, Uptown/MCA released My Life to positive reviews. The album peaked at number seven on the US Billboard 200 and number one of the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for selling 481,000 copies in its first week and remaining atop the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart for an unprecedented eight weeks. It ultimately spent 46 weeks on the Billboard 200 and 84 weeks on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. In 2002, My Life was ranked number 57 on Blender's list of the 100 greatest American albums of all time. The following year, Rolling Stone placed it at number 279 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, and in 2006, the record was included in Time's 100 greatest albums of all-time list.
Blige involved herself in several outside projects, recording a cover of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" for the soundtrack to the FOX series New York Undercover, and "Everyday It Rains" (co-written by R&B singer Faith Evans) for the soundtrack to the hip hop documentary, The Show. Later in the year, she recorded the Babyface-penned and produced "Not Gon' Cry", for the soundtrack to the motion picture Waiting to Exhale. The platinum-selling single rose to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in early 1996. Blige gained her first two Grammy nominations and won the 1996 Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for her collaboration with Method Man on "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By". Shortly after, Blige was featured on Jay Z's breakthrough single, "Can't Knock the Hustle" from his debut Reasonable Doubt (1996) and with Ghostface Killah on "All That I Got Is You" from his debut, Ironman, which was also released that year. In addition, Blige co-wrote four songs, provided background vocals and was featured prominently on two singles with fellow R&B singer Case on his self-titled debut album (1996) including the US top 20 hit, "Touch Me, Tease Me", which also featured then up-and-coming rapper Foxy Brown.
What's the 411? highlights the featuring of woman centered narratives although in this album her narratives were regularly policed and told through male emcees. Nonetheless it marked the start of a transition towards black women centered narratives that focused on the daily experiences and troubles of the black experience through the lens of women rather than necessarily singing about black trauma. Treva B. Lindsey in her piece "If you look in my life: Love, Hip-hop soul, and contemporary African American womanhood" highlights the regulating by men saying, "Although the lyrics on What's the 411? establish an African American woman-centered discourse, male artists’ words of adoration and longing first introduce listeners to Blige as a hip-hop storyteller. What's the 411?, therefore, functions as an African American woman-centered storytelling space created largely by black men.
On April 22, 1997, MCA Records (parent company to Uptown Records, which was in the process of being dismantled) released Blige's third album, Share My World. By then, she and Combs had dissolved their working relationship. In his place were the Trackmasters, who executive-produced the project along with Steve Stoute. Sharing production duties were producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, R. Kelly, Babyface and Rodney Jerkins. The album was made at a time when Blige was trying to "get her life together", by trying to overcome drugs and alcohol, as well as the ending of her relationship with Hailey. After an encounter with a person who threatened her life the previous year, she tried to quit the unhealthy lifestyle and make more upbeat, happier music. As a result, songs such as "Love Is All We Need" and "Share My World" were made. Share My World debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and spawned five hit singles: "Love Is All We Need" (featuring Nas), "I Can Love You" (featuring Lil' Kim), "Everything", "Missing You" (UK only) and "Seven Days" (featuring George Benson). In February 1997, Blige performed her hit at the time, "Not Gon' Cry", at the 1997 Grammy Awards, which gained her a third Grammy Award nomination, her first for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, as Blige was recording the follow-up to My Life. In early 1998, Blige won an American Music Award for "Favorite Soul/R&B Album". That summer, she embarked on the Share My World Tour, which resulted in a Gold-certified live album released later that year, simply titled The Tour. The album spawned one single, "Misty Blue".
On August 17, 1999, Blige's fourth album, titled Mary was released. It marked a departure from her more familiar hip hop-oriented sound; this set featured a more earthy, whimsical, and adult contemporary-tinged collection of songs, reminiscent of the 1970s to early 1980s soul. She also appeared on In Concert: A Benefit for the Crossroads Centre at Antigua with Eric Clapton in 1999. On December 14, 1999, the album was re-released as a double-disc set. The second disc was enhanced with the music videos for the singles "All That I Can Say" and "Deep Inside" and included two bonus tracks: "Sincerity" (featuring Nas, Andy Hogan and DMX) and "Confrontation" (a collaboration with hip hop duo Funkmaster Flex & Big Kap originally from their 1999 album The Tunnel). The Mary album was critically praised, becoming her most nominated release to date, and was certified double platinum. It was not as commercially successful as Blige's prior releases, though all of the singles: "All That I Can Say", "Deep Inside", "Your Child", and "Give Me You" performed considerably on the radio. In the meantime, MCA used the album to expand Blige's demographic into the nightclub market, as club-friendly dance remixes of the Mary singles were released. The club remix of "Your Child" peaked at number-one on the Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart in October 2000. In 2001, a Japan-only compilation, Ballads, was released. The album featured covers of Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed", and previous recordings of Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" and Dorothy Moore's "Misty Blue". In 1999, George Michael and Mary J. Blige covered the song 'As' written by Stevie Wonder, and worldwide outside of the United States, it was the second single from George Michael's greatest hits album Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael. It became a top ten UK pop hit, reaching number four on the chart. It was not released on the U.S. version of the greatest hits collection or as a single in the U.S. Michael cited Blige's record company president for pulling the track in America after Michael's arrest for committing a lewd act.
2001–04: No More Drama and Love & Life
On August 28, 2001, MCA released Blige's fifth studio album, No More Drama. The album's first single, "Family Affair" (produced by Dr. Dre) became her first and only number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100, where it remained for six consecutive weeks. It was followed by two further hit singles, the European only single "Dance for Me" featuring Common with samples from "The Bed's Too Big Without You" by The Police, and the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced title track (originally recorded for the Mary album), which sampled "Nadia's Theme", the piano-driven theme song to the daytime drama The Young and the Restless. Though the album sold nearly two million copies in the U.S., MCA was underwhelmed by its sales, and subsequently repackaged and re-released the album on January 29, 2002. The No More Drama re-release featured a new album cover, deleted three of the songs from the original tracklisting, while adding two brand-new songs—one of which was the fourth single and top twenty Hot 100 hit "Rainy Dayz", (featuring Ja Rule), plus two remixes; one of the title track, serviced by Sean Combs/Puff Daddy and the single version of "Dance for Me" featuring Common. Blige won a Grammy for 'Best Female R&B Vocal Performance' for the song "He Think I Don't Know." In April 2002, Blige performed with Shakira with the song "Love Is a Battlefield" on VH1 Divas show live in Las Vegas, she also performed "No More Drama" and "Rainy Dayz" as a duet with the returning Whitney Houston.
On July 22, 2002, MCA released Dance for Me, a collection of club remixes of some of her past top hits including the Junior Vasquez remix of "Your Child", and the Thunderpuss mix of "No More Drama." This album was released in a limited edition double pack 12" vinyl for DJ-friendly play in nightclubs.
On August 26, 2003, Blige's sixth album Love & Life was released on Geffen Records (which had absorbed MCA Records.) Blige heavily collaborated with her one-time producer Sean Combs for this set. Due to the history between them on What's the 411? and My Life, which is generally regarded as their best work, and Blige having just come off of a successful fifth album, expectations were high for the reunion effort.
Despite the album debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 and becoming Blige's fourth consecutive UK top ten album, Love & Life's lead-off single, the Diddy-produced "Love @ 1st Sight", which featured Method Man, barely cracked the top ten on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, while altogether missing the top twenty on the Hot 100 (although peaking inside the UK top twenty). The following singles, "Ooh!", "Not Today" featuring Eve, "Whenever I Say Your Name" featuring Sting on the international re-release, and "It's a Wrap" fared worse. Although the album was certified platinum, it became Blige's lowest-selling at the time. Critics and fans alike largely panned the disc, citing a lack of consistency and noticeable ploys to recapture the early Blige/Combs glory. Blige and Combs reportedly struggled and clashed during the making of this album, and again parted ways upon the completion of it.
The album became Blige's first album in six years to debut at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 285,298 copies in first week. Love & Life received mixed reviews from music critics. AllMusic gave it 4 stars and said the album "beamed with joy" and Rolling Stone gave it three stars, saying "You may not always love Blige's music, but you will feel her". The album was eventually certified Platinum by the RIAA. To date the album has sold over 1,000,000 copies in the US and over 2,000,000 copies worldwide. The album was nominated for the Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 46th Grammy Awards.
2005–06: The Breakthrough and Reflections – A Retrospective
Geffen Records released Blige's seventh studio album, The Breakthrough on December 20, 2005. For the album, Blige collaborated with J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Rodney Jerkins, will.i.am, Bryan-Michael Cox, 9th Wonder, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Raphael Saadiq, Cool and Dre, and Dre & Vidal. The cover art was photographed by Markus Klinko & Indrani. It debuted at number one on both the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. Selling 727,000 copies in its first week, it became the biggest first-week sales for an R&B solo female artist in SoundScan history, the fifth largest first-week sales for a female artist, and the fourth largest debut of 2005.
The lead-off single, "Be Without You", peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100, while peaking at number one on the R&B chart for a record-setting fifteen consecutive weeks; it remained on the chart for over sixteen months. "Be Without You" found success in the UK (peaking in the lower end of the top forty) it became Blige's longest charting single on the UK Singles Chart. It is her second longest charting single to date. The album produced three more singles including two more top-five R&B hits—"Enough Cryin'", which features Blige's alter ego Brook-Lynn (as whom she appeared on the remix to Busta Rhymes's "Touch It" in 2006); and "Take Me as I Am" (which samples Lonnie Liston Smith's "A Garden of Peace"). Blige's duet with U2 on the cover of their 1992 hit, "One" gave Blige her biggest hit to date in the UK, peaking at number two on the UK Singles Chart eventually being certified one of the forty highest-selling singles of 2006; it was her longest charting UK single. The success of The Breakthrough won Blige nine Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, two BET Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, and a Soul Train Award. She received eight Grammy Award nominations at the 2007 Grammy Awards, the most of any artist that year. "Be Without You" was nominated for both "Record of the Year" and "Song of the Year". Blige won three: "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance", "Best R&B Song" (both for "Be Without You"), and "Best R&B Album" for The Breakthrough. Blige completed a season sweep of the "big three" major music awards, having won two American Music Awards in November 2006 and nine Billboard Music Awards in December 2006.
In December 2006, a compilation called Reflections (A Retrospective) was released. It contained many of Blige's greatest hits and four new songs, including the worldwide lead single "We Ride (I See the Future)". In the UK, however, "MJB da MVP" (which appeared in a different, shorter form on The Breakthrough) was released as the lead single from the collection. The album peaked at number nine in the U.S, selling over 170,000 copies in its first week, while reaching number forty in the UK In 2006, Blige recorded a duet with rapper Ludacris, "Runaway Love", which is the third single on his fifth album, Release Therapy. It reached the top five on the Billboard Hot 100 and the R&B chart. Blige was featured with Aretha Franklin and the Harlem Boys Choir on the soundtrack to the 2006 motion picture Bobby, on the lead track "Never Gonna Break My Faith" written by Bryan Adams. The song was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.
2007–08: Growing Pains
Blige's eighth studio album, Growing Pains, was released on December 18, 2007, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 and at number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It sold 629,000 copies in its first week, marking the third time since Nielsen SoundScan began collecting data in 1991 that two albums sold more than 600,000 copies in a week in the United States. In its second week, the album climbed to number one, making it Blige's fourth number-one album. The lead single, "Just Fine", peaked at number twenty-two on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. "Just Fine" was nominated for the Grammy Award for "Best Female R&B Vocal Performance", and Blige won "Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals" for the Chaka Khan duet "Disrespectful" (featured on Khan's album Funk This) which Blige wrote.
Growing Pains was not released in the UK until February 2008, where it became Blige's fifth top ten and third-highest-charting album.The Breakthrough and Reflections (A Retrospective) were released in the Christmas rush and therefore settled for lower peaks, although both selling more than her top five album Mary. "Just Fine" returned Blige to the UK singles chart top 20 after her previous two singles failed to chart highly. Subsequent singles from Growing Pains include "Work That", which accompanied Blige in an iTunes commercial, and "Stay Down".
Blige was featured on 50 Cent's 2007 album, Curtis, in the song "All of Me". In March 2008, she toured with Jay-Z in the Heart of the City Tour. They released a song called "You're Welcome". In the same period, cable network BET aired a special on Blige entitled The Evolution of Mary J. Blige, which showcased her career. Celebrities such as Method Man and Ashanti gave their opinions about Blige and her music. Blige is featured on singles by Big Boi, and Musiq Soulchild. Growing Pains was nominated for and won the Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary R&B Album", at the 51st Grammy Awards held on February 8, 2009, earning Blige her 27th Grammy nomination, in a mere decade. Blige went on the Growing Pains European Tour, her first tour there in two years. A tour of Australia and New Zealand was scheduled for June but was postponed due to "weariness from an overwhelming tour schedule" and then eventually canceled entirely.
On August 7, 2008, it was revealed Blige faced a US$2 million federal suit claiming Neff-U wrote the music for the song "Work That", but was owned by Dream Family Entertainment. The filing claimed that Dream Family never gave rights to use the song to Blige, Feemster or Geffen Records. Rights to the lyrics of the song used in an iPod commercial are not in question.
2009–10: Stronger with Each Tear
Blige returned to performing in January 2009 by performing the song "Lean on Me" at the Presidential Inauguration Committee's, "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial". Blige also performed her hit 2007 single, "Just Fine", with a new intro at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball after Barack Obama was sworn in on January 20, 2009. Blige appeared as a marquee performer on the annual Christmas in Washington television special.
Blige's ninth studio album, Stronger with Each Tear, was released on December 21, 2009, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 and at number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, selling 332,000 units in its first week of release. It became her fifth album not to take the top spot in the United States. Blige recorded "Stronger", as the lead single from the soundtrack to the basketball documentary "More than a Game" in August 2009. The second single from Stronger with Each Tear, "I Am", was released in December 2009 and reached number fifty-five on the Hot 100. The third international single from the album, "Each Tear", was remixed with different featured artists from different countries, then being released in February 2010. The single failed to chart anywhere except in the UK where it reached number one-hundred-eighty-three and in Italy where it reached number one. The album's third U.S. single, "We Got Hood Love" featuring Trey Songz, was released in March 2010 and reached number tw25 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart though it failed to reach the Hot 100. One of Blige's representatives reported to Us Weekly magazine that a tour in support of Stronger with Each Tear would begin in the fall of 2010. In March 2010, Blige released Stronger with Each Tear in the United Kingdom, as well as in the European markets. The album performed modestly in the United Kingdom, debuting at number 33 on the UK Albums Chart and at number four on the UK R&B Chart. It reached the top 100 in other countries.
Blige was honored at the 2009 BET Honors Ceremony and was paid tribute by Anita Baker and Monica. On November 4, 2009, Blige sang The Star-Spangled Banner at Yankee Stadium before the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies played the last game (game 6) of the World Series. Blige performed two songs from her ninth album as well as her previous hits, "No More Drama" and "Be Without You" along with the song "Color", which was featured on the Precious soundtrack. Blige appeared as a guest judge on the ninth season of American Idol on January 13, 2010.
On January 23, 2010, Blige released a track "Hard Times Come Again No More" with the Roots as well as performing it at the Hope for Haiti Now telethon. At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Blige and Andrea Bocelli performed" Bridge over Troubled Water". Blige also performed on BET's SOS Help For Haiti, singing "Gonna Make It" with Jazmine Sullivan and "One." Blige also took part in February 2010's We Are the World 25 for Haiti, singing the solo originally sung by Tina Turner in the original 1985 We Are the World version. At the 41st NAACP Image Awards Blige won Outstanding Female Artist and Outstanding Album for Stronger with Each Tear. On November 18, 2010, Billboard revealed Mary J. Blige as the most successful female R&B/hip hop artist on the Top 50 R&B/Hip Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years list. She came in at number 2 overall.
2011–13: My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1) & A Mary Christmas
In January 2011, Hot 97 premiered Blige's teaser track "Someone to Love Me (Naked)" featuring vocals by Lil Wayne. In July 2011, Blige released the song "The Living Proof" as the lead single to the soundtrack of the film The Help. On July 24, VH1 premiered their third Behind the Music that profiled her personal and career life. In August 2011, Blige released her first single off the album, "25/8". Blige's tenth studio album, My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1), was released in November 2011. The album, primarily recorded in Los Angeles and New York City, saw Blige looking toward the future while acknowledging the past. "From me to you, My Life II... Our journey together continues in this life," the singer explained. "It's a gift to be able to relate and identify with my fans at all times. This album is a reflection of the times and lives of people all around me." The album features production by Kanye West and the Underdogs. The second single "Mr. Wrong" featuring Canadian rapper Drake was the most successful single from the album, peaking at number 10 on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The rest of the songs released, including lead single "25/8" achieved only moderate success, peaking within the top 40 on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album itself debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, selling 156,000 copies in the first week; it was eventually certified Gold in 2012 and has sold 763,000 in the US.
On February 28, 2012, Blige performed "Star Spangled Banner" at the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. Blige appeared as guest mentor on American Idol on March 7, 2012, and performed "Why" on the results show the following night. On September 23, 2012, Blige was a performer at the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Las Vegas. Blige was featured on the song "Now or Never" from Kendrick Lamar's album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, released on October 22, 2012.
In early 2013, reports surfaced that Blige was recording a Christmas album. The album, titled, A Mary Christmas was released on October 15, 2013, through Matriarch and Verve Records, her first release with the latter. The album includes collaborations with Barbra Streisand, the Clark Sisters, Marc Anthony and Jessie J. In early December, A Mary Christmas became Blige's 12th top ten album after it rose to No. 10 in its eight week.
2014–present: The London Sessions and Strength of a Woman
It was announced May 30, 2014, that Think Like a Man Too (Music from and Inspired by the Film), released June 17 on Epic Records, would introduce new songs by Mary J. Blige, including the single "Suitcase". Blige recorded a collection of music from and inspired by the film. In the United States, Think Like a Man Too debuted at number 30 on the Billboard 200, with 8,688 copies sold in its first week, becoming the lowest sales debut of any of her studio albums. On Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart, the soundtrack album charted at number six, marking Blige's 16th top ten entry on the chart, tying her with Mariah Carey for the second-most top tens by a female artist.
Following her concert date at the Essence Festival, on July 9, 2014, it was announced Blige would move to London to experiment with a new sound for her new album. Blige spent a month in London recording her album in RAK Studios with a host of young British acts, including Disclosure, Naughty Boy, Emeli Sandé and Sam Smith. Ten new songs, co-written and recorded by the singer, were released on November 24, 2014 on an album entitled The London Sessions. That same month, she announced that she left Geffen and Interscope and signed with Capitol Records.
In August 2016, Blige was recruited to perform the new theme song for the ABC Daytime talk show The View for its twentieth season titled "World's Gone Crazy" written by Diane Warren. A music video was also shot for the new theme song with co-hosts Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Candace Cameron Bure, Raven-Symoné, Paula Faris, Sara Haines, Sunny Hostin and Jedediah Bila. Blige also appeared on The View alongside Maxwell during its premiere week on September 9, 2016 to discuss their joint tour and theme song.
On September 30, 2016, Blige premiered a new show, The 411, on Apple Music. On its debut episode, she interviewed Hillary Clinton. A trailer was released online with Blige singing a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "American Skin" to a bewildered Clinton. The exchange received mixed and negative reaction on social media. Two weeks later, a studio version, this time featuring a verse from American rapper Kendrick Lamar was released online.
Following her highly publicized divorce from Kendu Issacs, Blige released two songs within October, "Thick of It" and "U + Me (Love Lesson)". On April 28, 2017, her thirteenth studio album, Strength of a Woman, was released. It peaked at number three on the Billboard 200, number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and topped the R&B Albums chart. On July 12, 2018, Blige released the single "Only Love" on Republic Records, following her exit from Capitol Records.
On April 16, 2019, Blige announced that she is co-headlining a North American summer tour with Nas titled The Royalty Tour. On May 8, Blige released the single "Thriving" featuring Nas. During an interview with Ebro Darden on Beats 1 for the premiere of "Thriving", Blige announced that her next studio album will be released before July. On June 23, at the BET Awards 2019, she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her extraordinary contributions to music industry. On June 25, The New York Times Magazine listed Mary J. Blige among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.
1998—2016: Early works
In 1998, Blige made her acting debut on the sitcom The Jamie Foxx Show, playing the apparently southern Ola Mae, a preacher's daughter who wanted to sing more than gospel music. Her father was portrayed by Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers. In 2001, Blige starred opposite rapper Q-Tip in the independent film Prison Song. That same year, Blige made a cameo on the Lifetime network series, Strong Medicine; playing the role of Simone Fellows. Blige's character was the lead singer of a band who was sick, but would not seek treatment. In 2000, Blige was featured in a superhero web cartoon in junction with Stan Lee. Blige used the cartoon as part of her performance while on her 2000 Mary Show Tour. In 2004, Blige starred in an Off-Broadway play, The Exonerated. The play chronicled the experiences of death row inmates. Blige portrayed Sunny Jacobs, a woman who spent 20 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. In late 2005, it was reported that Blige landed the starring role in the upcoming MTV Films biopic on American singer/pianist and civil rights activist, Nina Simone. By spring of 2010, Blige was slated to star as Simone with British actor David Oyelowo portraying her manager Clifton Henderson. Blige later dropped out of the role due to financial issues and the role was subsequently recast with Dominican American actress Zoe Saldana as Simone in Nina, released in 2016.
In February 2007, Blige guest-starred on Ghost Whisperer, in an episode called "Mean Ghost", as the character Jackie Boyd, the school's cheerleader coach grieving for the death of her brother and affected by the ghost of a dead cheerleader. The episode features many of Blige's songs. In August 2007, Blige was a guest star on Entourage, in the role of herself, as a client of Ari Gold's agency. In October 2007, Blige was also a guest star on America's Next Top Model, as a creative director for a photoshoot by Matthew Rolston. In May 2009, Mary made a guest appearance on 30 Rock, as an artist recording a benefit song for a kidney. Blige also had a supporting role in Tyler Perry's movie I Can Do Bad All by Myself, which was released in September 2009.
Blige starred alongside Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, and Alec Baldwin in the film adaptation of the 1980s jukebox hit musical Rock of Ages. Blige played Justice Charlier, the owner of a Sunset Strip gentlemen's club. Production began in May 2011 and the film was released in June 2012.
Blige starred in the Lifetime movie Betty and Coretta alongside Angela Bassett, Malik Yoba and Lindsay Owen Pierre. She played Dr. Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X. The film premiered in February 2013. In December 2015, she portrayed Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West in NBC's The Wiz Live!. In October 2016, Blige guest-starred on ABC legal drama How to Get Away with Murder as an old acquaintance of Annalise Keating played by Viola Davis.
In 2017, Blige starred in the period drama film Mudbound directed by Dee Rees. Playing Florence Jackson, the matriarch of her family, she received praise such as Variety's review: "Mary J. Blige, as the mother of the Jackson family, gives a transformative performance that will elevate the acting career of the R&B star." For her performance in Mudbound, Blige was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. As she was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song (with Taura Stinson and Raphael Saadiq), she became the first person nominated for an Academy Award for acting and original song in the same year. Her nomination also made Dee Rees the first black woman to direct a film for which an actor was nominated for an Academy Award.
Blige voiced Irene Adler in the 2018 animated film Sherlock Gnomes, and in 2020 voiced Queen Essence in the animated musical film Trolls World Tour. In 2018, it was announced that Blige was cast as Sherry Elliot in Scream: Resurrection, the third season of the slasher television series Scream. The season premiered on VH1 on July 8, 2019. In 2019, Blige starred in the role of Cha-Cha, a main antagonist in the Netflix superhero series The Umbrella Academy.
Blige played a leading role in the horror film Body Cam. She starred in the independent drama film Pink Skies Ahead that will premiere at the 2020 South by Southwest film festival. Blige stars as Monet Stewart Tejada in Power Book II: Ghost, the first spin-off for the highly rated Starz cable drama Power which premieres in September 2020. Blige played singer Dinah Washington in the biographical drama film Respect about life and career of Aretha Franklin. The film is scheduled to be released theatrically on August 13, 2021.
In 1990s, Blige spent six years in an abusive relationship with singer Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey of the R&B group Jodeci. During a 1995 interview on the UK television show The Word, Blige confirmed the two were engaged; Hailey denied that they were going to get married. Their turbulent relationship inspired Blige's album My Life.
Blige married her manager, Martin "Kendu" Isaacs, on December 7, 2003. At the time, Isaacs had two children, Nas and Jordan, with his first wife, and an older daughter, Briana, from a teenage relationship. In July 2016, Blige filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences". Blige and Isaacs' divorce was finalized on June 21, 2018.
In 2004, Blige launched her own record label, Matriarch Records, distributed through Interscope, and in mid-2012, discovered girl group Just'Us, making the group the first ladies of the label. Blige says "These are my little Mary's; they each remind me of myself at different points in my life." Blige has been reported to be working with Just'Us on their debut album.
In July 2010, Blige launched her first perfume, My Life (through Carol's Daughter), exclusively on HSN. The fragrance's success broke sales records in hours and has been awarded two prestigious FIFI awards from the Fragrance Foundation. The newest fragrance, My Life Blossom launched in August 2011 exclusively to HSN.
In October 2010, Blige released a line of sunglasses called "Melodies by MJB". The first Melodies collection featured four styles with a total of 20 color options. Each style represented a specific facet of Blige's life. Essence magazine reported that in the spring of 2011, "Melodies by MJB" extended their collection to offer more styles.
Blige's production company, along with William Morris Endeavor, is also working on several TV and film projects.
In partnership with the Home Shopping Network (HSN) and Carol's Daughter, Blige released her "My Life" perfume. The perfume broke HSN records by selling 65,000 bottles during its premiere. The scent went on to win two FiFi Awards, including the "Fragrance Sales Breakthrough" award.
Blige has had endorsement contracts with Reebok, Air Jordan, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Gap, Target, American Express, AT&T Inc., M·A·C, Apple Inc., Burger King and Chevrolet. She has also been a spokesperson with Carol's Daughter beauty products and Citibank's with Nickelback program.
Called the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul", Blige is credited with influencing the musical marriage of hip hop and R&B. Ethan Brown of The New Yorker says that albums "What's the 411?" and "My Life", in hindsight, invented "the sample-heavy sound that reinvigorated urban radio and became a blueprint for nineties hip-hop and R&B". Tom Horan of The Daily Telegraph comments that Blige, being a hugely influential figure in popular music, "invented what is now called R&B by successfully combining female vocals with muscular hip hop rhythm tracks. All over the world, that recipe dominates today's charts." Called one of the "most explosive, coming-out displays of pure singing prowess" and "one of the most important albums of the nineties", What's the 411? saw Blige pioneer "the movement that would later become neo soul, generating gripping songs that were also massive radio hits".
African American scholars have noted the implications of Blige's presentation and representation of black womanhood and femininity in the typically male-dominated and centric sphere of hip hop. Blending the vocal techniques of rapping in hip hop with aspirational messages in R&B, Blige is credited with articulating black women's experiences in a "more factual and objective" manner than typical stereotypes and tropes of black women in the media. Using her personal experiences and struggles with her family as source material for her songs, Blige refutes notions of black female hypersexuality by "imploring women to love and empower themselves through both autonomy and intimacy." This desire for love does more than connect to her audience members. With particular attention on her single "Real Love," critics note how the song is "a performative text, declaratively demand[ing] recognition of Blige's full humanity and, more broadly, that of hip-hop-generation women."
Blige has received notable awards and achievements. In 2010, she was ranked 80th on VH1's list of the 100 Greatest Artist of All Time. Blige was listed as one of the 50 most influential R&B singers by Essence. Rolling Stone magazine ranked My Life at number 279 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The album was also included on Time's list of the 100 Greatest albums of All Time. Alternately called the "Queen of R&B" for her success in the realm of R&B, Blige has amassed ten number one albums on the R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart . Blige is also the only artist to have won Grammys in the R&B, hip hop, pop, and gospel fields.
Blige and her work have influenced several recording artists, including Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift, Monica, Layton Greene, Keyshia Cole, Bryson Tiller, Cheryl, Teyana Taylor Keke Palmer, Jess Glynne, Sam Smith, and Alexandra Burke.
In 2020, Kamala Harris, the first Black and South Asian female Vice President-elect on a major party walked out to "Work That" at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, campaign events (including her own presidential campaign), and her victory speech.
- What's the 411? (1992)
- My Life (1994)
- Share My World (1997)
- Mary (1999)
- No More Drama (2001)
- Love & Life (2003)
- The Breakthrough (2005)
- Growing Pains (2007)
- Stronger with Each Tear (2009)
- My Life II... The Journey Continues (Act 1) (2011)
- A Mary Christmas (2013)
- The London Sessions (2014)
- Strength of a Woman (2017)
- Share My World Tour (1997–98)
- The Mary Show Tour (2000)
- No More Drama Tour (2002)
- Love & Life Tour (2004)
- The Breakthrough Experience Tour (2006)
- Growing Pains European Tour (2008)
- Love Soul Tour (2008)
- Music Saved My Life Tour (2010–11)
- The London Sessions Tour (2015)
- Strength of a Woman Tour (2017)
- Heart of the City Tour (with Jay-Z) (2008)
- The Liberation Tour (with D'Angelo) (2012–13)
- King and Queen of Hearts World Tour (with Maxwell) (2016)
- The Royalty Tour (with Nas) (2019)
|1992||Soul Train||Herself - Musical Guest||(episode 2, season 22)|
|1992||Out All Night||Herself||"Smooth Operator" (episode 9, season 1)|
|1993||Saturday Night Live||Herself - Musical Guest||John Goodman/Mary J. Blige (episode 15, season 18)|
|1994||The 8th Annual Soul Train Music Awards||Herself - Presenter|
|1995||New York Undercover||Herself||"Private Enemy No. 1" (episode 14, season 1), "Tag You're Dead" (episode 2, season 2) [music performance]|
|1998||The Jamie Foxx Show||Ola Mae||"Papa Don't Preach" (episode 14, season 2)|
|1999||Moesha||Herself||"Good Vibrations?" (episode 1, season 5)|
|2001||Strong Medicine||Simone Fellows||"History" (episode 4, season 2)|
|2007||Ghost Whisperer||Jackie Boyd||"Mean Ghost" (episode 15, season 2)|
|Entourage||Herself||"Gary's Desk" (episode 8, season 4)|
|2009||30 Rock||Herself||"Kidney Now!" (episode 22, season 3)|
|2010 & 2012||American Idol||Guest judge/Herself||2010: Auditions were held in Atlanta, Georgia at the Georgia Dome when Blige guest judged. 2012: Mentor for the Top 13 Whitney Houston & Stevie Wonder Week|
|2012||The Voice||Herself||Mentor of Team Adam Levine (season 3)|
|2013||Betty & Coretta||Dr. Betty Shabazz||Television film|
Nominated — Women's Image Network Award for OutstandingOutstanding Actress Made for Television Movie / Mini-Series
|The X Factor||Guest judge/herself||Blige assisted Nicole Scherzinger at her judge's house in Antigua|
|2015||Empire||Angie||"Sins of the Father" (episode 10, season 1)|
|The Wiz Live!||Evillene, The Wicked Witch of the West||TV special|
Nominated — Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Movie/Miniseries
Nominated — Black Reel Award for Best Supporting Actress: Television Movie/Cable
|Black-ish||Mirabelle Chalet||Guest appearance in Season 1, episode 24|
|2016||How To Get Away With Murder||Ro||TV Series (2 episodes)|
|2019||The Umbrella Academy||Cha-Cha||Main role; 9 episodes|
|2019||Scream: Resurrection||Sherry Elliot||Recurring role|
|2020||Power Book 2: Ghost||Monet||Main role|
|2021||Lost Ollie||Rosy||Main role|
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- Honorific nicknames in popular music
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…singer Mary J. Blige in 1971 (age 50)
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She got up and sang this song I had never heard of before, and all of a sudden, I felt like, I go through that so much. I doubt myself every single day, no matter what happens… And I think I always will, and I think it’s always something I’m going to struggle with. But this song helped me, and helps me moment to moment. I don’t think we can ever hope to fully get over the things that make us insecure, or the voices in your head that say, ‘You can’t do it, you’re not good enough, nobody likes you, you’re not cool, you’re so annoying.’ But I wanted to sing this song for you because this was the first city I heard this song. And it is absolutely foolish to try and sing a Mary J. Blige song, because she’s the greatest singer who ever lived. But this song matters to me, and it means so much to me to get to sing it to you, and I think it can help you if you struggle with the same kinds of insecurities that I do.
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Co-star Mary J. Blige had a one-year deal for the series.
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