Mary Jane Blige (surname pronounced ; born January 11, 1971), more commonly known as Mary J. Blige, is an American recording artist, record producer and actress. She has sold more than forty eight million albums worldwide. She has received many Grammy Award nominations for her work, winning ten, and has been awarded the World Music Legends Award for combining hip hop and soul together. Blige's vocal range registers from alto to mezzo-soprano, but mostly performs in the mezzo-soprano range. Blige cites Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan as three of the most influential vocalists in her life.
Life and career
1971?1990: Early life and career
Blige was born on January 11, 1971, in The Bronx, New York. She is the second of four children born to parents Cora (a nurse), and Thomas Blige (a jazz musician). Blige was taught to sing by her father (who would beat her mother). When Blige was four, her father abandoned the family. Blige spent her early years in Savannah, Georgia, where she sang in a Pentecostal church. She later moved to Schlobohm Houses in Yonkers, New York, where she lived with her mother, older sister, five cousins and two aunts. At the age of five, Blige was sexually abused by a family friend. She dropped out of school in eleventh grade. When she was 17, Blige 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 then 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; becoming the company's youngest and first female artist.
Upon signing to Uptown, Blige's early years there were dormant, as the label continued to focus most of its attention on its more established acts. During this time, Blige occasionally did session work as a background singer for her label mates. In 1990, she was introduced as a background singer for Redd, during a performance at the Apollo Theatre. The same year she sang the hook on "I'll Do 4 U" by rapper and label mate Father MC, appearing in the concert-themed music video of the same name; In 1991, she was spotted on the syndicated show, Showtime at the Apollo, singing back up for Jeff Redd. In early Fall of 1992, Blige guest spotted with Grand Puba with his single, Check It Out. Blige's first national debut appearance was in the summer of 1992 when she appeared on MTV.
1991?1993: What's the 411? and the Remix album
Production for Blige's debut album began in 1991, with Sean "Puffy" Combs, at the time an A&R executive at Uptown, largely overseeing the project.
On July 28, 1992, Uptown Records released What's the 411?. "You Remind Me", the album's lead-off single, peaked chart and number one on the R&B singles chart that summer. The second single, "Real Love", was released in the fall. It too topped the R&B singles chart, and became Blige's first top ten Hot 100 single, peaking at number seven. Both singles were certified gold.
More What's the 411? singles followed into 1993, including "Sweet Thing", a cover of Rufus's "Sweet Thing", and "Love No Limit". By the end of the year, What's the 411? had sold three million copies. Blige, meanwhile, released a hip hop single "You Don't Have to Worry". After the success of What's the 411, Sean "Puffy" Combs hailed the singer as "the queen of hip-hop soul", a title that she has since retained. She later confessed that, at the time, she believed the title to be nothing more than a marketing tool. The name of her album, What's the 411? stems from her previous job as Directory Assistance operator. 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.
1994?1996: My Life
On November 29, 1994, Uptown Records released Blige's second album, My Life. Darker, moodier, and slightly less uptempo than its predecessor?the set was again overseen by Combs (despite his having recently left the label), who co-produced all but one of the albums tracks, and took over as Blige's manager. Unlike What's the 411?, Blige co-wrote a large body of the material, basing it on her personal life.
"Be Happy", the album's single, peaked at number 29 and number six on the Hot 100 and R&B singles chart, respectively. In early 1995, it was followed up with a cover of Rose Royce's 1976 hit "I'm Goin' Down", which became her first top 20 hit in the UK, peaking at number 12. Other My Life singles included: "You Bring Me Joy" and "I Love You." "Mary Jane (All Night Long)" and "My Life" received heavy radio play, despite never being officially released as singles apart from the UK, where "Mary Jane (All Night Long)" became Blige's second top 20 hit from the album there. My Life was eventually certified triple platinum. In spite of its success and her growing fame, Blige later admitted that she was simultaneously dealing with long time bouts of drug addiction, alcoholism, and depression, as well as an abusive relationship with then-boyfriend K-Ci Hailey of Jodeci. 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 biopic, The Show. That summer she dueted with rapper Method Man on his song, "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By" (which sampled Marvin Gaye's "You're All I Need to Get By", and for which she won a Grammy award.) Later in the year, she recorded the Babyface-penned and produced "Not Gon' Cry", for the soundtrack to 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, and became her biggest commercial hit at the time. Blige won her first Grammy Award ? 'Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group' for her collaboration with Method Man.
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 now, she and Combs had dissolved their working relationship. In his place were a group of big name producers, including: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Chucky Thompson, R. Kelly, Babyface, and most significantly Rodney Jerkins, who helmed a significant portion of the album.
The album was made at a time where 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 life style 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." The album became Blige's most commercially successful; selling three million copies in the U.S.. 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 1970s to early 1980s soul.
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 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 (moving almost two million in sales.) It, however, wasn't as commercially successful as Blige's prior releases, even though all of the singles: "All That I Can Say", "Deep Inside", "Your Child", and "Give Me You" performed considerably on radio. In the meantime, MCA used the album to expand Blige's demographic into nightclub market, as club-friendly dance remixes of the Mary singles were released. The club remix of "Your Child" peaked at number-one hit 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".
2001?2002: No More Drama
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 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 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 track listing, 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 Puff Daddy and the single version of "Dance for Me" featuring Common. The album sold another million-plus units in the U.S. and five million worldwide. 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.
2003?2004: Love & Life
Mary J. Blige in September 2003
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 (now calling himself "Diddy") 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 to date. 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.
2005?2006: 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 (a record subsequently broken by 2007 Alicia Keys' album As I Am), the fifth largest first-week sales for a female artist, and the fourth largest debut of 2005. Since its release, The Breakthrough has sold over three million copies in the U.S and over seven million copies worldwide, becoming one of the five best-selling albums of 2006.
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 (although 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 her 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 the American Music Awards in November 2006, the Billboard Music Awards in December 2006, and the Grammy Awards in February 2007.
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. It has sold more than 1.6 million copies. 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". The song was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance at the 50th Annual Grammy Awards.
2007?2008: 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.
Speaking in January 2008 to noted UK R&B writer Pete Lewis of the award-winning 'Blues & Soul', Blige explained the significance of the album's title 'Growing Pains': "I started writing the record right after that whole gigantic day I had at the Grammies last year. So it was important to me to get across to my fans that whole feeling I was going through of 'How do I sustain this breakthrough? How do I continue to remind myself I'm in a better place?'... And the only way to continue to stay in that place is to GROW! I believe the majority of people out there, if something uncomfortable is going on in their lives, are forced to either go back to where they were, or to GROW - and that that tension is called PAIN. So the light, happy songs on the album are celebrating my growth. While the less poppy, darker tracks represent the places I'm forced to grow out of. So in that way the title represents the growth, as well as the understanding that - in order for anything to develop - it has to have some kinda tension behind it."
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 a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, at the 51st Grammy Awards to be held on February 8, 2009, earning Blige her 27th Grammy nomination, in a mere decade.
Blige went on tour in Europe in support of Growing Pains, her first European tour 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.
Blige performing "Lean On Me" at the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial"
Blige performed "Lean On Me" at the Presidential Inauguration Committee's, "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial". Blige performed "Just Fine" with a new intro at the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball after Barack Obama was sworn in as the first black president on January 20, 2009.
Blige was honored at the 2009 BET Honors Ceremony and was paid tributes and honors by Anita Baker and Monica.
While Blige toured with Robin Thicke in 2008, she worked on her upcoming ninth album titled Stronger. The first single, "The One", which features the Canadian rapper Drake, was released for airplay on June 5, 2009, and was officially and digitally released on July 21, 2009. She recently performed the single at Hot 97's 2009 Summer Jam Concert. Blige recently appeared in an AT&T Shedding Styles commercial. Stronger is expected to be released on December 15, 2009 along with the premiere of her reality show on BET. The title track, "Stronger", which is the lead single from the soundtrack to the basketball documentary "More Than a Game", was originally supposed to double as the album's official second single, but the next single was recently changed to "Good Love" featuring T.I.. Blige was featured on T.I.'s single, "Remember Me". However, the second single was once again changed to "Said and Done" in late September 2009. The single is due for a November, 2009 release.
Blige played the role of Tanya in the 2009 Tyler Perry movie, I Can Do Bad All By Myself, where she performed the song, "I Can Do Bad All By Myself". Blige has been announced as a guest judge on the 2010 series of American Idol.
In 1998, Blige made her acting debut on the sitcom The Jamie Foxx Show playing a character ,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 Simone Fellows, lead singer of a band who was sick, but wouldn't seek treatment. In 2000, Blige had her own superhero web cartoon in junction with Stan Lee. Blige used the cartoon to open her 2000 tour. In 2004, Blige starred in an off-Broadway play, The Exonerated. The play chronicled the experiences of real 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 had landed the starring role in the upcoming MTV Films biopic on Nina Simone. There is no word yet as to when the film will start shooting. In February 2007, Blige guest-starred on Ghost Whisperer, in the episode "Mean Ghost", as Jackie Boyd; a cheerleading coach grieving for the death of her brother and dealing with a dead cheerleader harming her team. The episode features many of Blige's songs. In August 2007, Blige guest-starred on Entourage, playing herself as a client of Ari Gold's agency. In October 2007, Blige guest-starred on America's Next Top Model, as creative director for a photoshoot done by Matthew Rolston. In May 2009, Mary made a guest appearance on 30 Rock, as one of the artists recording a benefit song for a kidney. According to IMDB, she will play famous American singer/pianist Nina Simone. The film will be released in 2009. Blige had a supporting role in Tyler Perry's Movie I Can Do Bad All By Myself, which was released in theatres in September 2009. She will contribute the title track from her ninth album Stronger (due for a November 24, 2009 release) to the soundtrack and for promotion of the LeBron James documentary, More Than a Game.
She is a spokesperson and investor for Carol's Daughter beauty products. She has her own record label called Matriarch Records, which is distributed through Geffen.
Blige has had major endorsements with several companies including Reebok, Air Jordan, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Gap, Target, American Express, AT&T, M·A·C, Apple Inc. and Chevrolet. Blige was a Citibank spokesperson with Nickelback for their 2008 holiday promotion.
Online merchandise store
Mary J. Blige has her own online merchandise store where fans can purchase items that relate to Mary J. Blige from t-shirts to vinyl cases.
Blige had a very public and tumultuous six-year relationship with Jodeci frontman Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey, which ended in 1997. Following the run of their union, despite having been linked with singer Case, rappers Ghostface Killah and Nas and producer/singer Malik Pendleton, she has kept many of her relationships private.
In 2000, Blige began a relationship with record industry executive Martin Kendu Isaacs (known simply as "Kendu"), who is now her manager. Blige has credited Isaacs for helping her overcome her addictions to drugs and alcohol. The two were married on December 7, 2003 in a small private ceremony at Blige's home attended by 50 guests (none of whom were media).
In a 2006 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Blige said that she was molested at the age of five.
On March 27, 2008 it was reported that Mary J. Blige, along with her husband bought a 12.3 million dollar house, with a movie theater and a basketball court.
In 2008, Mary J. Blige was among the celebrities listed as People magazine's 100 Most Beautiful People.
Blige was a spokesperson for the M·A·C AIDS Fund. She appeared in two ads, one with Lil' Kim in 2000 and the other with Elton John and Shirley Manson in 2002.
She was one of the featured singers on the CNN Heroes Awards Show on December 6, 2007.
Blige lent her voice to the 2008 song, Just Stand Up. The proceeds benefited Stand Up to Cancer. As a result of SU2C fundraising endeavors, the SU2C scientific advisory committee, overseen by the American Association for Cancer Research was able to award 73.6 million dollars towards novel, groundbreaking cancer research.
On May 9, 2008, the Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now, Inc. (FFAWN) was announced at Roosevelt High School in Yonkers. According to the foundation's website, "FFAWN is an organization founded by Mary J. Blige to inspire women from all walks of life to reach their individual potential. Through scholarships, grants, and programs that foster strong self-esteem, career development, and personal growth, FFAWN is intended to help women gain the confidence and skills they need to achieve success. FFAWN will initially focus its efforts in Yonkers and surrounding communities in Westchester and then expand its scope to include the Greater New York area and, eventually, the entire country. The Mary J. Blige Center for Women has opened in Yonkers.
Mary J. Blige has received 9 Grammy awards and 8 multi-platinum records.