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Mary J. Blige

  b. 1971 | American singer

At The Bottom
 1995

She suffered physical abuse from her father, who abandoned the family when she was four.

By the usual measures, Mary J. Blige had already proven herself to be a rags-to-riches success.  A high school dropout, Blige had grown up in New York during the 1970s and early 1980s, an era when there were few worse places to be black and poor.  Economic opportunities were minimal and the city’s infrastructure was crumbling. Drugs and alcohol blighted neighborhoods like Blige’s, where the violence of everyday life trickled down to the smallest and weakest in the community.  She suffered physical abuse from her father, who abandoned the family when she was four, and a family friend later molested Blige.  Her childhood was miserable, yet she managed to escape her upbringing through the power of her singing voice.  In 1988, a record company executive heard a recording Blige had made at a White Plains shopping mall karaoke machine.  The next year, she became the youngest artist and the first woman to sign with Uptown Records.  It took several years for her career to take off, but when it did she became one of the most popular artists of the early 1990s.  Her debut album, What’s the 411, sold three million copies in the second half of 1992 alone.  Her second album, My Life, made an equally strong showing in 1994, but by then Blige’s actual life was heading off the rails.  She was drinking heavily, smoking tremendous amounts of dope and snorting cocaine as often as she could get it — which, given the amount of money she was earning, was as often as she wanted it.  It seemed as if she were trying to derail  her young career. She missed interviews, cancelled concerts, blew her money and soon gained a reputation as someone who was difficult to work with.  Recording industry insiders soon began to predict that her star would fade.  “She won’t last,” they said.  “She’ll self destruct.” Blige, however, didn’t seem to care.

At The Top
 2007

The album earned her a raft of awards and remained in the top spot of the Billboard R&B chart for nearly four consecutive months.

With her Grammy awards for best R&B performer, best R&B song, and best R&B album, Mary Blige completed a sweep of all the major music awards — the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Awards, and the Grammy Awards.  Her album, titled The Breakthrough, captured Blige at the peak of her career.  It was her seventh multi-platinum album (she now has eight), with more than seven million copies sold throughout the world.  The album earned her a raft of awards and remained in the top spot of the Billboard R&B chart for nearly four consecutive months.  Her previous album had not sold as well as earlier efforts, but The Breakthrough indicated that Blige wasn’t finished.  “I could have accepted all the talk of Oh, she’s finished, she’s washed up, she’s 35.”  But when I did [this album] I went into it like, Uh, uh, I ain’t finished yet.’  My people are not finished with me and I could feel it in my heart.”

The Comeback

She realized that she was no longer a kid and needed to take responsibility for her own behavior.

In the midst of her self-destructive spiral, Blige caught a glimpse one day of a picture of herself that wasn’t at all flattering.  “I said to myself, Gosh, I look bad,'” she explained to a reporter several years later. When she began to evaluate her behavior, she realized that she was no longer a kid and needed to take responsibility for her own behavior, starting with the seemingly little things.  By appearing  for interviews on time, for example, she would demonstrate that she cared enough about her career to speak with reporters who were an important link between herself and her fans.  She also realized that she needed to surround herself with people who were genuinely concerned about her as a person, not just as a source of profit for the record company.  To that end, she hired her sister as her business manager, a decision that put her career in the care of someone who loved her but was willing to let her know when she was making bad decisions in her life.  By the time her third album was released in 1997, Blige had quit using drugs, experienced a religious awakening, and begun a new relationship with a man she would later marry.  That album  was the creation of someone who had walked her personal life back from the brink of disaster.

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