Looking Back at Mary J. Bligeby Michael Gonzales
When you meet her in person, Mary J. Blige is nothing like the soul sister of perpetual suffering that was once her trademark identity. “I’ve actually heard some fans say they liked me more when I was miserable,” Mary says. “If they want to feel my pain, then I suggest they go back and listen to My Life. I’m not going back to that place, so they can hate all they want.”
Since first dropping onto the post-new-jack swing landscape of urban music in 1992, Mary J. has had her share of haters. “In her life, Mary has been through the storm,” says singer Anthony Hamilton. “She’s been criticized, bruised and lashed, but that didn’t stop her from emerging like a diamond. For years she has been called ‘the queen of hip-hop soul,’ but Mary J. Blige is really the premier soul voice of our community.”
As a true blue Mary fan, I first saw her on stage of the Manhattan’s former Paramount Theater the same year her 1992 debut What’s the 411? was released. Opening for thuggish rude boys and label-mates Jodeci, Mary took time to blossom but the audience supported Mary’s every nervous step. Even then, one sensed that Mary was fiercely determined to strive and survive in the musical jungle, no matter how hard some industry know-it-alls tried to put her down.
“Looking back to the negative things some critics wrote, I’m glad it happened, because it made me the person I am now. I’m not a selfish singer anymore, but one that is trying to give back. Be it on stage or in the studio, I’m trying to put my own life in the songs so other people might figure out who they are. All the singers I have ever loved gave so much in their material, and I know how much they have given me. That’s what I’m trying to give.”
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