Mary Jane Blige, born January 11, 1971 is an American singer, songwriter, model, record producer and actress. Starting her career as a background singer on Uptown Records in 1989, Blige released her first album, What’s the 411?, in 1992, and has released 13 studio albums since and made over 150 guest appearances on other albums and soundtracks.
A recipient of nine Grammy Awards, in addition to receiving a record of thirty Grammy nominations, and also known as the Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Blige is one of few entertainers in history to have eight or more albums to reach multi-platinum status. My Life, in particular, is considered among the greatest albums ever recorded according to Rolling Stone, Time, and Vibe. For her part in combining hip hop and soul in the early 1990s and its subsequent commercial success, Blige received the Legends Award at the World Music Awards. Blige also received the Voice of Music Award from performance rights organization ASCAP, with its official Jeanie Weems stating that “[Blige’s] music has been the voice of inspiration to women worldwide in both struggle and triumph.” Blige made Time magazine’s “Time 100” list of influential individuals around the world in 2007.
As of 2013, Blige has sold more than 50 million albums and 25 million singles worldwide. Billboard ranked Blige as the most successful female R&B artist of the past 25 years. The magazine also lists her 2006 song “Be Without You” as the top R&B song of the 2000s, as it spent an unparalleled 15 weeks atop the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. In 2011, VH1 ranked Blige as the 80th greatest artist of all time. Moreover, she is ranked number 100 on the list of “100 greatest singers of all time” by Rolling Stone magazine. In 2012, VH1 ranked Blige at number 9 in “The 100 Greatest Women in Music.”
Blige also earned high remarks for her work in film. She starred in the 2009 Tyler Perry box-office hit I Can Do Bad All By Myself and played a role in the film Rock of Ages (2012). She received a Golden Globe Award nomination for her musical contribution to the film The Help. 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. In 2017, she stars in the period drama film Mudbound directed by Dee Rees.
1971–91: Early life and career beginnings
Blige was born on January 11, 1971, in Bronx, New York, She is the second of four children born to mother Cora, a nurse, and second to father Thomas Blige, a jazz musician, The family subsisted on her mother’s earnings as a nurse after her father left the family in the mid-1970s, the former an alcoholic and the latter a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Blige spent her early years in Richmond Hill, Georgia, where she sang in a Pentecostal church. Blige later moved to Schlobohm Houses in Yonkers, New York, immediately north of New York City, where she lived with her mother and older sister. Blige dropped out of high school in her junior year.
Pursuing a musical career, Blige spent a short period of 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, becoming the company’s youngest and first female artist.
1992–96: What’s the 411? and My Life
After being signed to Uptown Records, Blige began working with record producer Puff Daddy. He became the executive producer and produced a majority of the 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”. 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. 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.
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, which was reported in several tabloids. On November 29, 1994, Uptown Records/MCA Records released Blige’s second album, My Life, to positive reviews. The album debuted at number two 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 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 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). The album became Blige’s most commercially successful, selling three million copies in the U.S. 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 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 (selling over two million in sales.) 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 radio. In the meantime, MCA used the album to expand Blige’s demographic into the nightclub market, as club-friendly danceremixes 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.
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