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Mary J. Blige: Songstress shares life, love and career

September 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Cover Story, Feature

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Mary J. Blige

Originally from the Bronx in New York City, singer/songwriter/producer/actress Mary J. Blige has already put an indelible stamp on the entertainment industry. The nine-time Grammy winner — and owner of eight platinum albums — has achieved such a high degree of success, that she can rightfully declare to be in a state of “No More Drama.” She recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Las Vegas Black Image Magazine — touching on topics that include her personal and professional journeys, a yet-unfulfilled dream collaboration and an upcoming performance at The Palms.

You will be performing at the Palms casino resort on Sept. 7. What can audiences expect from your performance?
Well, I always come with my full band to bring the music people love. I don’t have a lot of bells and whistles; even when I had it, it didn’t work for me. I just try to give the fans what they want, and that’s it. It will be a great night.

Tell us about your new company, Matriarch, and your new artist, Starshell?
Starshell’s type of music is not like the music I do. It resembles club music, the kind that the kids are doing these days. She is a hard worker — very smart young lady, and very talented. I signed her not just because she is talented, but because of the chemistry. You have people who are very talented in the industry, but some have horrible attitudes and a bad work ethic. She happened to have a great attitude about life and a great work ethic that made me say, “OK, she wants it.” She is great.

It has been reported that you will appear on musical competition series, “The Voice,” as a mentor.
Yes, Adam Levine — who is one of the judges of the show, and also in the group Maroon 5 — called me and told me he wanted me to mentor the artists with him on the show.

Why did you decide to go on “The Voice” instead of some of the other competition shows?
“The Voice” stood out because Adam asked me. It’s not that I don’t want to have a job on “The Voice.” I would love a permanent job on the show. Adam asked me it wasn’t like I went to him.

What does it mean when people say, “Staying true to the music”?
I think it means, staying true to who you are and the music you do, the music that people love you for. There are so many artists that we love — and so many artists from the past that we still love, because they stay true to who they are. And that is what we want from them every time we see them. We want what they are, and who they are, even if they put a little different spin or twist on it with a cross-generational touch. If they are staying true to the artist they are, the music that is given will always be true.

What have been some of your most memorable musical collaborations?
Wow, there are so many. The first one I did with Method Man, “You’re All I Need,” the hip-hop version — the one I won my first Grammy for. I loved working in collaboration with Bono, U2 and so many others.

Who would you like to collaborate with?
I haven’t collaborated with Stevie Wonder yet. I have worked with Sting, Elton John, Chaka Khan, and Ms. Aretha Franklin but haven’t done anything with Stevie. I would love [for] him to write me a song. He is such an amazing songwriter.

What is the common thread that makes your music a success?
I guess knowing what’s in a person’s heart. I am not saying that I have a crystal ball or something to know what is going on in a person’s life, but I can relate with being a human being. And in my life, when things are so strong or delicate, I am not afraid to speak about it or sing about it. That is the common thread. It is just everyday life that is expressed in my music. For example, if you have a problem, you might go and talk to someone and they say, “Yeah, I am going through the same thing.” It is just about knowing people and knowing that you touch their heart. If you do something with love, you will win.

You’ve worked inside the recording studio at the Palms?
Yes, I did do some recording in the Palms studio. It is so beautiful, but the biggest things I like about the Palms are the wonderful restaurants.

Does fame and money make you happy?
No, it actually makes you even more miserable. If you are not happy and unaware of what makes you happy, money and fame won’t give it to you. What I have learned is that you first have to be comfortable and happy with yourself. It is important to be happy with what you already have — then money and fame are like add-ons. Like an accessory that complements a beautiful outfit. When I wasn’t happy with myself and I had this horrible life, I had all this stuff and I still hated myself. The money just covers up the pain inside and makes it worse. The money can cover up the things you need to fix.

What is the greatest realization a black woman can have about herself, in order to positively impact her life?
The biggest thing is to pinpoint — through prayer and wanting to know what the problem is — whether you are having any problems with low-self-esteem or a lack of education. Those things that cause you to feel inferior or unworthy, [you have to] address them. I had to do it because I never had confidence in anything that I did. I didn’t have confidence in my looks, and I really didn’t get an education. I guess once you look at yourself honestly, you will become more comfortable in your own skin. But, the only way to become comfortable in your own skin is to love the skin you are in. Love what you have. You are not going to get anything else — this is it. Make it work. If getting a better education is going to make you feel better about yourself, then do that. If prayer and putting God first — that is what worked for me — makes you feel better, then do that. God and prayer puts everything in order for me, and He keeps me going. In order to have another person look at you and say, “I want what you have,” you have to first love what you have. That is how you make a mark on the universe. You have to love what you have and where you are right now. I know that is easier said than done, because we all want to be in better places. How can we be blessed to go to a better place when we are not happy with what we have? How can we be blessed with a better body … or great skin if we can’t just say, “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to make this right.” Be happy with what you have, and then you can work on what can be done to make it better.

What do you think black women are missing when it comes to finding their true love?
[Having been] married, single and not having anybody in my life, I learned that when you don’t have anybody in your life, you are sad about it. And when you get somebody, you are complaining about it. So what’s the thing that is going to make you completely happy and satisfied? The only thing that will make you satisfied is being comfortable with you. We have to stop looking for people to give us happiness and strength, and find the strength within. Men, boyfriends and husbands are not coming into our lives to pay all of our bills. We have to ask ourselves, “What are we going to do for ourselves?” It is a turnoff to our men if we are always telling them we feel bad today, and we need them to make us feel better. It is a big turn-on for our men when we can admit that we are feeling challenged and we are going to try to make the best of it. When we stop looking at our jobs and to other people like they owe us something, life will change. The universe owes you nothing and we owe it to ourselves to make our lives better. Now, I am not saying that your mate shouldn’t contribute and put positive into your life—and if they can’t invest positively into your life, then hit delete (laughs).

What has been the major game changer in your career that took you to the next level of success?
For me, the major game changer was when I sang at President (Barack) Obama’s inauguration. Here I am, this girl who came from the projects in Yonkers, who never thought in a million years that I would ever be near the president of the United States — and nobody in my ‘hood thought it either. And here I am, singing for my president. Wow. I think on every level that was huge for me and people came up to me from all over the world. Also, being on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a couple of times helped me, too. My “Breakthrough” album also was very significant. That garnered me eight Grammy nominations. That was a moment for me when I said, “Oh man, I never graduated from high school or had the opportunity to walk across the stage to receive my diploma — but here I am, getting these Grammys.” Man, that was a moment for me.

How do you feel about the job President (Barack) Obama has done thus far?
I love President (Barack) Obama, because he is a mirror of what is so real and down-to-earth — a real man. He is doing a great job with what he was given. He was given a bunch of rubble. Everything that was put into President (Barack) Obama’s hands when he was elected, people assumed he could immediately fix it. He has done a tremendous job with the mess he was given. I am proud of him and I think he will work it all out and make it amazing for our country. I respect him not just because he is our first African-American president, but also because he is very, very intelligent. We have a real and amazing man representing our country. He is just amazing. His wife, Michelle — let’s not forget about the second half — is his better half. I am sure she is helping him along. And those two as a team — wow!

What is your message to black women?
I would say, “Don’t be afraid to let your light shine.” Don’t wait for a light to shine on you. Let the light shine through you. You are beautiful and we are light — don’t be afraid to illuminate and be the great, beautiful and the sexy women that you are. Just do it — it’s time. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you are great. It’s time for you to know it, and learn it, because sometimes it is a process.

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