Mary J. Blige is a six-time Grammy Award-winning American R&B, soul, and hip-hop soul singer, producer, songwriter, and actress. She is widely known as the “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul”, and she has sold more than 60 million records worldwide
Blige grew up in housing projects in Yonkers, NY. While at a mall in White Plains, NY, she recorded herself singing Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” into a karaoke machine. The tape was passed to Uptown Records CEO Andre Harrell who signed her shortly after. In 1991, Sean “Puffy” Combs took Blige under his wing and began working with her on her debut album, What’s the 411? , which bridged the gap between R&B and rap in a way that no female singer had before.
Called the new Chaka Khan and new Aretha Franklin, she helped to improve soul music with new textures and flavors that inspired a whole generation of musicians. With her blonde hair, self-preserving slouch, and combat boots, Blige was street-tough and beautiful all at once. As she softened her style to include sleek designer clothes, she remained a role model to thousands of girls growing up in the same kinds of rough places she came from.
In her second release, My Life, featuring Combs’ handiwork, she shared her own personal pain and filled it with a lot of ghetto pathos. After its release, she severed her ties with Combs and Uptown, hired Suge Knight as a financial advisor, and signed with MCA. Blige also involved herself in several projects, including “Not Gon’ Cry,” for the soundtrack to Waiting to Exhale that became her biggest hit at the time. That year, she won her first Grammy Award for “Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.” In 1997 Mary released Share My World which reflected her new creative partnerships with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
In 1999, Blige released her fourth album, Mary, a departure from her more familiar hip-hop-oriented sound that featured a collection of songs reminiscent of 1970s and early 1980s soul. Also featured on the album were high-profile guests, including Elton John, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, and Lauryn Hill. Her fifth album, No More Drama, reflected her own spiritual, emotional, and personal vision with “Family Affair,” her first number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The album title proclaimed a period of greater calm and resilience in her life and she won her second Grammy for “Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.” In 2003, she was reunited with P. Diddy, who produced the majority of her next album, Love and Life.
After that came her next album, The Breakthrough, which was a tremendous success, spawning a handful of major singles and breaking sales records by selling nearly three million copies in the US and over six million copies worldwide. It earned her various awards and Blige received eight Grammy Award nominations at the 2007 Grammy Awards, the most of any artist for the 2007 awards.
In 2006, Blige released an album of duets, Mary J. Blige & Friends with Santana, Elton John, Sting, Robin Thicke, and Patti LaBelle with the proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Club of America. She also released Reflections – A Retrospective and recorded a duet with Aretha Franklin for the soundtrack to Bobby. She also appeared in Ludacris’ inspirational song and music video “Runaway Love” that raised awareness of the phenomenon of girls who run away from home because of abuse by men.
Blige made her acting debut on The Jamie Foxx Show and went on to appear in the independent feature film, Prison Song, and made a cameo on the Lifetime network series, Strong Medicine. In 2004, Blige starred in her first off-Broadway play, “The Exonerated” that chronicled the experiences of real death row inmates. Recently, she also appeared as a guest star on Ghost Whisperer.