Mary J. Blige has been an icon in the entertainment industry for three decades. But before she was an R&B superstar, Blige survived a difficult upbringing.
Mary J. Blige’s childhood
Mary J. Blige grew up in the Schlobohm housing projects in Yonkers, New York. As a little girl, Blige witnessed and experienced abuse of all kinds, including her mother being physically beaten. When Blige was a teenager, she began turning to drinking, drugs, and sex as a way of escaping the reality that she was living in.
In her 2021 documentary Mary J. Blige’s My Life, she opened up about what it was like growing up where she did.
“I think [what] people don’t understand about the families that live in the projects is that it’s like prison — it’s like prison inside of a prison inside of a prison,” she said honestly. “It’s people hurting people hurting people hurting each other.”
Mary J. Blige’s passion for music
What got Blige through some of her hardest times, she says, was her love of music.
“Singing was the escape for me,” she said. “Singing made me forget that we were struggling so much. It just made me forget that iI was going through what I was going through. Even as a little girl, I had insecurities and I was always blue and always sad, but singing made me feel free. And that’s what I had. That’s what I held onto.”
Still, Blige had to keep her passion to herself so that others wouldn’t try to take the one thing that made her happy from her. “It wasn’t like I was running around telling everybody I was going to be a singer,” she admitted. “I didn’t dream big or think for a moment that it was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be this big star,’ because our environment didn’t tell us that. Our environment told us that this was it.”
“I was the little girl that looked at certain artists and certain things on commercials and television shows and movies and wish that I had certain things,” she added. “But in that neighborhood, someone would get jealous or mad at you for having something — for having a smile, for having a dream.”
Mary J. Blige’s career today
Blige, of course, made her dreams a reality. She was discovered by Uptown Records founder Andre Harrell in the late 1980s and almost immediately became a signed recording artist. Her debut album What’s the 411?, released in 1992, put the entire industry on notice, while her sophomore LP My Life, released two years later, remains one of the most acclaimed R&B albums of all time.
Blige has continuously released music in the years since then, with over 50 million records sold worldwide and nine Grammy Awards to her name.
In recent years, Blige has also made a name for herself as an actor. In 2018, she was nominated for two Academy Awards for her role in Mudbound, and she’s starred in series including The Umbrella Academy and Power Book II: Ghost.
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