Mary Jane Blige (born January 11, 1971), also known as Mary J. Blige, is an
American recording artist, songwriter, singer, and actress. A recipient of
nine Grammy Awards and many other honors, Blige has recorded eight multi
platinum albums. Blige has received the World Music Legends Award for
combining hip hop and soul in the early 90's. As of 2010, Blige had sold
over 49 million records Blige has cited Chaka Khan and Aretha Franklin as
Blige was born in the Bronx, New York. She is the second of four children
born to parents Cora (a nurse; 1951-) and Thomas Blige (a jazz musician;
1948-2007). Blige was taught to sing by her father. When Blige was four,
her father (who is reported to have been physically abusive to Blige's
mother) abandoned the family. At the age of five, Blige was molested by a
Blige spent her early years in Richmond Hill, 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. She dropped out of school in the eleventh grade.
At the age of 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 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.
After signing to Uptown, Blige's early years there were dormant; 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 TV 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.
Production for Blige's debut album began in 1992, with Sean "Puffy" Combs,
who was at the time an A&R executive at Uptown who oversaw the project.
On July 28, 1992, Uptown Records released What's the 411?. "You Remind
Me", the album's first single, peaked at 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 for their sales volume.
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". 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. With combined sales of over 5
million albums and singles from her debut album, Blige was the best
selling female artist on the Uptown label.
On November 29, 1994, Uptown Records released Blige's second album, My
Life which was again overseen by Combs (despite his having recently left
the label), who co-produced all but one of the album's 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. My Life was also nominated for Best R&B Album, but lost
to TLC's CrazySexyCool.
In 1996, after winning her first Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by
a Duo or Group for the platinum selling certified single, "I'll Be There
For You/You're All I Need to Get By with Wu Tang Clan member Method Man,
later that year, she appeared on another Wu-Tang Clan member, Ghostface
Killah's single, "All That I Got Is You", for which she co-wrote, and sung
the second verse of the song, which is Ghostface's account of his early
She was unavailable for the music video, and was replaced by a backing
singer at the last minute; her original vocals remained on Ghostface's
debut album, Ironman.
In December of that year, My Life, was certified 3x Platinum by the RIAA.
In February 1997, Blige performed her hit at the time, "Not Gon' Cry" at
the 1997 Grammy Awards, which gained her third (and first) Grammy Award
nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, as Blige was recording
the follow up to My Life.
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 the TrackMasters who executive produced
the project along with Steve Stoute. Sharing production duties were
producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Chucky Thompson, R. Kelly, Babyface
and Rodney Jerkins.
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 (selling over
two million in sales.) It wasn't 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 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".
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 (3.2 million in total) in the U.S. and seven 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
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 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.
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 (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
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 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
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. The lead single, "The
One", which features the Canadian rapper Drake, was released for airplay
in June 2009, and was officially and digitally released on July 21, 2009.
Blige recorded "Stronger", as the lead single from the soundtrack to the
basketball documentary "More Than a Game" August 2009. The second single
from "Stronger with Each Tear" “I Am", was released for airplay November
22, 2009 and released two weeks later in December 8, 2009.
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 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, Stronger with Each Tear,
including her new single, "I Am", as well as her previous hits, "No More
Drama" and "Be Without You" as well as the song "Color" which is featured
on Precious soundtrack, on December 20 on A&E Television's "Private
Sessions". Blige appeared as a guest judge on the 2010 series 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 performs
Bridge Over Troubled Water. Blige also performed on BET's SOS Help For
Haiti, singing "Gonna Make It" with Jazmine Sullivan and "One."
At the 41st NAACP Image Awards Blige won Outstanding Female Artist and
Outstanding Album for Stronger with Each Tear.
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 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 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 Nina Simone. According to
IMDB.com the film will be released in 2012.
In February 2007, Blige guest-starred on Ghost Whisperer, in an episode
called "Mean Ghost", as the character Jackie Boyd, the school's cheer
leader 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
photo shoot 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. Her song Stronger was used as part
of the promotion for the LeBron James documentary, More Than a Game.
Blige has had endorsement contracts with Reebok, Air Jordan, Pepsi,
Coca-Cola, Gap, Target, American Express, AT&T, M·A·C, Apple Inc. and
Chevrolet. She has also been a spokesperson with Carol's Daughter beauty
products and Citibank's Nickelback program.
Blige has her own record label, Matriarch Records, distributed through
In 2000, Blige met record industry executive Martin Kendu Isaacs (known as
"Kendu") who became her manager. The two were married on December 7, 2003,
in a small private ceremony at Blige's home attended by 50 guests.