Though only 15 in 2002, when he had his first hit with his playful update of Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend,” Mario already boasted the maturity of a performer far beyond his years. It’s easy to see why he made such an impression on Clive Davis, the music-biz legend who signed him to J Records not long after the teenager—born Mario Dewar Bennett in 1986—first earned attention singing Boyz II Men songs in talent competitions in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. Released in 2004, second album Turning Point more than fulfilled all of Mario’s early potential with its smooth and skillful blend of pop and R&B. The album’s first and biggest hit, “Let Me Love You,” also helped launch the career of its writer Ne-Yo. On Mario’s next two albums for J—2007’s Go and 2009’s D.N.A.—he adopted a tougher swagger on match-ups with Rich Boy and Gucci Mane, but that softer side often re-emerged on the gorgeous likes of “Thinkin’ About You” and “I Choose You.” Returning to music after a long hiatus, the former teen star continued to ease into his all-grown-up guise as a first-class balladeer on 2018’s Dancing Shadows, a confident and beautifully emotive set of old-school soul and spacy alt-R&B.
BORNAugust 27, 1986