Mary J. Blige: An Icon

By: Cheyenne Henry

Methodology

From a young age, I grew up surrounded by parents’ music. Beyonce, Missy Elliot, Mariah Carrey, and Mary J. Blige were some of my mothers’ favorite artists that influenced me as a grew up. Mary J. Blige is a powerful female influence. Using scholarly sources, I researched her contributions to the music industry and our society. She has inspired generations of new musicians and made herself into a lifelong legend. During this research, I found that she is much more than just an icon, she overcame a rough childhood and continued to give back to her community. 

Summary & Abstract

Mary J Blige the “Queen” of Hip-Hop and Soul began her career in 1991 when she was signed to Uptown Records. Uptown Records saw Mary’s potential from a simple video recording and recruited her. In the beginning stages of her career, she sang backup for multiple artists and trained behind-the-scenes. In 1992, she published her debut album What’s the 411?. Later, she became known for her hit single Be Without You in 1994. This song went on to be named the most successful R&B/Hip-Hop song of all-time and appear in Billboard magazine. Using her childhood and adulthood experiences she created masterpieces. As her career progressed, she received critical acclaim for her albums and went on to win more than five grammy awards. In 2001, Blige began to transition from the music scene into the acting scene. She began acting with supporting roles in Rock of Ages (2012), Black Nativity (2013), and her latest project Body Cam (2020). Her contributions to the music industry and the film industry made a household name.

Early Life

Mary J. Blige was born in the Bronx, New York on January 11th, 1971. Blige’s childhood was rough due to her parents. Cora Blige suffered from domestic abuse due to this violence Cora turned to alcoholism. Thomas Blige suffered from PTSD after surviving the Vietnam War. Her father left her and Cora Blige at the age of four. Her rough childhood continued due to her family’s economic situation. In the 70s economic opportunity was severely limiting to black citizens and due to her mothers’ alcoholism, there was little chance of economic growth. As a young adolescent, she grew up in a public housing project in Yonkers where she was physically and mentally abused. Through music and church, she was able to escape the torment of her childhood. Despite her positive attitude, her surroundings disabled her ability to grow. In 1991 when she officially signed with Uptown Records, Mary J. Blige was able to escape her traumatic childhood and her violent community. Initially, Blige trained by singing back up for Father MC. After that, she released her debut album What’s the 411?.

Music Industry

Mary J. Blige’s first album What’s the 411? became an instant success. This album sold more than 2 million copies and propelled her rise to fame. This album changed the game for Hip-Hop and soul artists. In this album Blige samples rap artists, integrating soul and rap music. Her debut album included youth memoirs and raw singing. All of these components made What’s the 411? an instant success. In 1995, Blige released her second studio album, My Life. My Life exposed Mary’s raw emotions and personal pain. Due to discrepancies in her management, Blige’s personal life was riddled with drug abuse and alcohol abuse. Blige’s circle never questioned her violent habits and allowed her to continue on a negative path. Luckily, Blige was able to turn her life around once she met her ex-husband Kendu Issacs. Due to her emotional trauma, Blige ended her contract with Uptown Records and signed with MCA. This embarked on a drastic change in her career. 

 

As Mary grew older, her music style evolved. In 1997 she released Share my World in creative partnership with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. This album strayed away from her street style aesthetic. It was elegant and classic. It debuted number on the Billboard 200 adding to Mary’s other successful albums. She later came out with Mary, No More Drama, and The Breakthrough. Each album exuded classic soul style and continued to highlight her powerful vocals. Although these albums were drastically different from her debut, it showed her fans her growth and maturity as she aged. Although each album differed, they all achieved critical acclaim and landed her on the top of the Billboard 200 Charts. Throughout her career, Mary received multiple awards. In 2007 Mary won a Grammy Award for her album The Breakthrough and her hit single Be Without You. She also won numerous BET awards. In 2006 Mary won three Billboard Music Awards: Top R&B Artist, Female R&B/Hip-Hop Artist, R&B/Hip-Hop Song. Additionally, Mary won three NAACP Image Awards for an Outstanding Female Artist. Throughout her career, Mary J. Blige continues to collect awards and recognition. 

Film Industry

In 1998 Mary J. Blige started her acting career on the hit sitcom The Jamie Foxx Show and later appeared in the 2001 film Prison Song. Her initial projects were mostly supporting roles and were featured in network TV series. Her characters mainly revolved around singing allowing her to use vocals while acting. In 2004 Mary began taking on a different role in the Film Industry. She starred in the Off-Broadway play The Exonerated where she played Sunny Jacobs, a woman who spent more than 10 years in prison for a crime that she did not commit. This film highlighted racial issues in America and the discrepancies in the judicial system. Blige also obtained a supporting role in Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself. In 2017 Mary took on a major supporting role in the drama film Mudbound. She played Florence Jackson a sharecropper’s wife. This film not only elevated her acting career but it enabled her to win multiple awards. She was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, Academy Award for Best Original Song, Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress, etc. Additionally, Blige voiced animated films Sherlock Gnomes and Trolls World Tour. Mary J. Blige was extremely successful both in the music industry and the film industry, she truly is a lifetime icon.

Where Is She Now

Mary J. Blige is currently preparing for a new album release. She revealed that it will be about how she overcame the rough patches in her life and persevered. The album is set to release at the end of 2020 and/or the beginning of 2021. In the film industry, Blige has been extremely active. She is playing a lead role in the upcoming film Body Cam. She is starring in the film Pink Skies Ahead which is set to release during the 2020 South by Southwest film festival. Her latest project is the drama film Respect. Mary plays Dinah Washington in the film and its main purpose is to show the life and career of Aretha Franklin. This film is set to release in early January 2021.

Philanthropy

In 2007, Mary J. Blige founded the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now, Inc. She uses this foundation as an outlet to share her personal experience and empower young women to be successful. The foundation provides parenting education, life skills training, and GED preparation. The foundation also has a scholarship program for young women to attend college. Additionally, she financially supports causes such as abuse, adoption, orphans, and AIDS/HIV. Despite her success in both industries, Mary J. Blige has remained humble and continues to support her foundation and the causes mentioned above.

Discography

Bibliography

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Mary J. Blige.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Sept. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Mary-J-Blige.

 

Goldman, Vivien. “Mary J. Blige’s Words Of Wisdom.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/mary-j-bliges-words-of-wisdom-193906/.

 

“Mary J. Blige.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 8 Jan. 2020, www.biography.com/musician/mary-j-blige.

 

Pelton, Tristan Michael. “Mary J. Blige (1971- ).” Welcome to Blackpast •, 30 Mar. 2019, www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/blige-mary-j-1971/.

 

Proefrock, Stacia. “Mary J. Blige: Biography & History.” AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/mary-j-blige-mn0000376204/biography.