Award-winning singer and actress Mary J. Blige is undoubtedly the queen of Hip Hop Soul.
Mary Blige was born January 11, 1971, in Fordham Hospital in the borough of the Bronx, New York City. She was born to mother Cora, a nurse, and father Thomas Blige, a jazz musician.
She is the second of four children. She has an elder sister, LaTonya Blige-DaCosta, a younger brother, Bruce Miller, and a younger sister, Jonquell, from a later relationship Blige’s mother had with another man after divorcing Mary and LaTonya’s father.
She spent her early childhood in Savannah, Georgia, and Richmond Hill, Georgia, where she sang in a Pentecostal church. She and her family later moved back to New York and resided in the Schlobohm Housing Projects, located in Yonkers. The family subsisted on her mother’s earnings as a nurse after her father left the family in the mid-1970s. Her father was a Vietnam War veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism.
At the age of five, she was molested by a family friend, and as a teenager she endured years of sexual harassment from her peers. She would eventually turn to alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex to try and numb the pain. Blige dropped out of high school in her junior year.
Pursuing a musical career, Blige spent a short time in a Yonkers band named Pride with band drummer Eddie D’Aprile. In early 1988, she recorded an impromptu cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” at a recording booth in the Galleria Mall in White Plains, New York. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time later played the cassette for Jeff Redd, a recording artist and A&R runner for Uptown Records. Redd sent it to the president and CEO of the label, Andre Harrell. Harrell met with Blige and in 1989 she was signed to the label as a backup vocalist for artists such as Father MC, becoming the company’s youngest and first female artist.
After being signed to Uptown, Blige began working with record producer Sean Combs, also known as Puff Daddy. He became the executive producer and produced a majority of her first album. The title, What’s the 411? it was an indication by Blige of being the “real deal”. What’s the 411? nevertheless established Blige as a dynamic storyteller whose performances of love narrative drew upon both her musical influences and her lived experiences as a hip-hop-generation woman.
The music was described as “revelatory on a frequent basis”. Blige was noted for having a “tough girl persona and streetwise lyrics”. On July 28, 1992, Uptown/MCA Records released What’s the 411?, to positive reviews from critics. What’s the 411? peaked at number six on the Billboard 200 and topped the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Blige became the most successful new female R&B artist of 1992 in the United States. Blige has been ranked as the most successful female R&B/Hip-Hop artist of the past 25 years.
Photo Credit: Getty