Image Ownership: Public Domain
When Mary J. Blige was born on January 11, 1971 in Bronx, New York, few observers would have imagined her becoming one of the most successful rhythm and blues (R&B) artists within a musical world increasingly dominated by hip-hop. Blige's father abandoned the family when she was four. She and her mother and sister moved to the Schlobam Housing Project in the Bronx and became one of thousands of impoverished single-parent families in New York’s public housing system. Blige was sexually assaulted as a child and later dropped out of high school.
In 1988 Blige recorded a demo in a shopping mall self-recording booth. The demo made its way to Uptown Records in Harlem and she signed a recording contract a year later. For her first album, Blige was guided by then little-known producer Sean Combs. Her debut album What's the 411?
changed the sound of both hip-hop and soul for artists in both of the genres. The album integrated soul and rap music. Blige's raw singing and rugged image reflected her project-raised youth. Her song would also be sampled by other rap artists including The Notorious B.I.G., which added to her streetwise credibility.
Mary J. Blige would record another six albums, all of which achieved spectacular success, reaching platinum (over one million albums sold) status. Along with commercial success Blige has also earned a number of awards including two NAACP image awards, and six Grammys.
Although she achieved personal success, Blige continued to confront personal issues. In an interview with Essence
Magazine in 2001 she discussed her recently ended relationship with an abusive lover. "My life was in jeopardy. It was about to be taken from me because of physical abuse," she explained. Blige’s widely recognized emotional strength and power have helped her remain an inspiring figure in the contemporary music world.
Terrell Brown, Mary J. Blige (New York: Mason Crest, 2006); Joan
Morgan, "What You Never Knew About Mary," Essence Magazine Online,
November, 2001. 15 Mar. 2007,
Stacia Proefrock, "Mary J. Blige" Allmusic.com 15 Mar. 2007,
University of Washington