Mary J. Blige

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About Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige is that rare singer who can channel your pain—and then drag you onto the dance floor to sweat it away. Dubbed the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul in the ’90s, Blige came off as tough and streetwise (unlike many of her contemporaries), and she could go toe to toe with rappers, including JAY Z, Method Man, and more recently Kendrick Lamar. Born Mary Jane Blige in the Bronx in 1971, Blige was raised mainly in Yonkers, NY, where she grew up listening to the greats: Aretha, Chaka, and Gladys Knight. Her voice is elastic, scrappy, and versatile, with more than a hint of world-weary grit, and when a chance recording of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” came before Uptown Records execs in 1988, the label immediately snapped her up as its youngest (and first female) signee. She and Sean Combs crafted her 1992 debut, What’s the 411?, which spawned the ubiquitous and beloved jam “Real Love” and helped set the template for R&B’s marriage to hip-hop. Blige’s life was never separate from her art, and fans have followed her through addiction, marriage, divorce, and therapy, connecting with songs like “Not Gon’ Cry” and “No More Drama” out of deep identification: Here was an artist who sang women’s realities as they were almost never presented in popular music—and who always came out stronger. Mary (1999) saw her move toward a more classic sound, though 2001’s smash “Family Affair” swung back toward hip-hop; that fertile tension has remained in her music since. Even as she’s gone Hollywood (earning an Academy Award nomination for 2017’s Mudbound), Mary J. remains a model R&B diva who paved the way for myriad successors, including Beyoncé and Ariana Grande. In 2022, she performed an Apple Music Live session in New York.

Bronx, NY, United States
January 11, 1971
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