A powerful voice backed by heartfelt lyrics and a no-nonsense attitude, Mary J. Blige deservedly earned her title as the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. With legendary music producer Sean "Puffy" Combs mentoring her early career, Blige blazed to the top of the pop and R&B charts with her debut album What's the 411? (1992), which yielded the hit singles "Real Love" and "Sweet Thing." The Grammy Award-winning vocalist blended her gritty, urban roots with the sophistication and grace of soulful belters like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. Not one to shy away from exposing her dark past, including a history of addiction and physical abuse, Blige sang about her pain and encouraged millions to face their own harsh realities with her platinum-selling albums such as No More Drama (2001), The Breakthrough (2005), Growing Pains (2007) and The London Sessions (2014), and provided the soundtrack for the romantic comedy "Think Like A Man Too" (2014). Blige's critically acclaimed albums were filled with poignant messages of life, love and self-acceptance, with each song delivered with passion and power, all of which contributed to her success as one of the greatest vocalists of her generation. After a handful of small supporting roles in films, Blige made a triumphant breakout in 2017, winning two Academy Award nominations for co-starring in and providing the theme song for Dee Rees' historical drama "Mudbound" (2017).
Mary Jane Blige was born on Jan. 11, 1971 in Yonkers, NY and raised in Savannah, GA. Her father, a jazz musician, taught the future star how to sing, while her mother, a nurse, turned her on to the soulful music of artists like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. Blige's father abandoned the family when she was eight, around the same time she began singing for her local Pentecostal church in Savannah. At 17, Blige recorded her first demo, a cover of Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture" (1986), at a shopping mall in White Plains, NY. The tape made its way to Uptown Records president and CEO Andre Harrell, who signed the aspiring singer to his label, making Blige the youngest and first female artist on its roster. She started as a background singer for artists like Jeff Reed and Father MC, whose hit song "I'll Do 4 U" (1990) featured Blige's vocals. One of the people she met at Uptown Records was then A&R executive Sean "Puffy" Combs, who eventually became one of the most successful and influential producers in hip-hop music.
Combs played a major part in the recording of Blige's debut album as well as her overall image. He reportedly wanted the up-and-coming singer to stay true to her urban roots, unlike most R&B artists at the time, such as Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, who projected a more glamorous sound and appearance. In 1992, Blige released the LP What's the 411? that blended R&B, soul and a style of hip-hop called New Jack Swing. The singer's combat boots, baggy clothes, and baseball cap-wearing image also reflected her urban upbringing and attitude. The album's first single "You Remind Me" topped the R&B singles chart upon its release, but it's success was soon eclipsed by the up-tempo second single "Real Love." The song became Blige's first Top 10 hit, peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album also featured the ballads "Love No Limit" and a cover of Chaka Khan's classic "Sweet Thing" (1975). Critics praised Blige for her genre-blending debut and dubbed her the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. The album's success even spawned What's the 411? Remix the following year, which included her hit tracks remixed by hip-hop impresarios with guest vocals from Combs, Heavy D, and The Notorious B.I.G.
Blige continued to dominate the hip-hop and R&B charts with her subsequent releases, from the triple platinum-selling My Life (1994), to the inspirational, adult contemporary-tinged Mary (1999). A common thread throughout her albums was dealing through hard times, whether from personal experience or taking on more worldly issues, best exemplified by her empowering ballad "Not Gon' Cry" (1996), which was featured in the 1995 drama "Waiting to Exhale." Blige won her first Grammy Award in 1996 for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for her 1995 duet with Method Man titled "I'll Be There for You/You're All I Need to Get By." The singer eventually crossed over to pop music territory with her fifth studio album No More Drama, which was largely inspired by her previous battles with drug and alcohol addictions as well as past abusive relationships with men. The album scored Blige her first No. 1 track on the Billboard Hot 100, the hip-hop jam "Family Affair." The title track, a soulful power ballad that sampled the "Nadia's Theme" melody from long-running daytime series "The Young and the Restless" (CBS, 1973- ), also reached the Top 20 on both the R&B/hip-hop and the pop charts. The music video for "No More Drama," which featured cameos by producer Combs and fellow R&B singer Carey, won Blige her first MTV Video Music Award in 2002.
Her seventh studio album The Breakthrough truly lived up to its name by debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 200 albums and R&B/hip-hop charts. The lead single "Be Without You," an ode to unconditional love, spent 15 weeks at No. 1 and set the record for most successful song in the history of the R&B chart. Blige won a handful of Grammy Awards in 2007, including Best R&B Album for The Breakthrough, and Best R&B Song and Best R&B Vocal Performance for "Be Without You." In 2008, Blige was named one of the greatest singers of all time by Rolling Stone. Even though music took up the majority of Blige's career, she frequently dabbled in acting, from guest appearances on "The Jamie Foxx Show" (The WB, 1996-2001) and "Strong Medicine" (Lifetime, 2000-06), to a supporting role in Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself" (2009) as a nightclub bartender. Blige also found success as an entrepreneur, with the launch of her own fragrance, My Life, in 2010, and endorsement deals with American Express and MAC cosmetics. She returned to the recording studio in 2009 and released Stronger with Each Tear, which became her ninth album to debut at No. 1 on the R&B/hip-hop chart. As a singer who often stepped outside of her R&B comfort zone, such as performing covers of rock classics like U2's "One" (1992) and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" (1971), Blige was perfectly cast alongside Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough and Alec Baldwin in "Rock of Ages" (2012). In the film based on the 2009 Broadway musical production, she played the owner of a gentlemen's club located on Hollywood's famous Sunset Strip. Blige returned to film with the soundtrack of the romantic comedy "Think Like A Man Too" (2014). Following a 2013 Christmas album, Blige released The London Sessions (2014), working with young British dance artists such as Disclosure and Sam Smith. Blige's follow-up album Strength of a Woman featured the hit singles "Thick of It" and "U + Me (Love Lesson)," but that success was quickly eclipsed by her starring role in Dee Rees' historical drama "Mudbound" (2017), for which she was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song" for her track "Mighty River." Blige next appeared in the animated family film "Sherlock Gnomes" (2018).
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Sang background vocals for Father MC track "I'll Do 4 U"
Released debut album <i>What's the 411?</i>, featuring her first Top 10 hit "Real Love"
Released multi-platinum selling album <i>My Life</i>
Contributed the ballad "Not Gon' Cry" for the "Waiting to Exhale" soundtrack
Made TV acting debut with guest role on "The Jamie Foxx Show" (The WB)
Veered into adult contemporary and inspirational music with <i>Mary</i>
Scored first No. 1 track on the Billboard Hot 100 with the hip-hop jam "Family Affair" from <i>No More Drama</i>
Made feature film debut in "Prison Song"
Debuted at No. 1 on the <i>Billboard</i> Hot 200 with <i>The Breakthrough</i>
Played supporting role in Tyler Perry's "I Can Do Bad All By Myself"
Cast alongside Tom Cruise and Alec Baldwin in feature adaptation of the stage musical "Rock of Ages"