Halfway through her sold-out concert on day 2 of the inaugural Strength of a Woman Festival in Atlanta, Mary J. Blige reminded fans why the moment meant so much. “This festival belongs to me, y’all,” noted an emotional Blige.
Taking place on Mother’s Day weekend (May 6-8) and presented in partnership with Pepsi and Live Nation Urban, the festival borrowed its title from Blige’s 2017-released 13th studio album. In addition to three concerts — two of which were sold out — the event included a comedy night (May 6) and a daylong women’s empowerment summit (May 7). The day before the festival officially kicked off, the Atlanta mayor’s office and city council honored Blige and the festival by proclaiming May 5, 2022, as “Strength of a Woman Day” in the city.
Coming together at networking club The Gathering Spot, summit attendees were treated to various panels featuring successful Black women from the entertainment and beauty arenas, among other business sectors. Talk show host Tamron Hall moderated the kickoff panel with Blige, radio personality Angie Martinez, actress Tasha Smith and beauty influencer Supa Cent. “Nobody starts a festival this big,” Hall said to Blige, noting the sheer magnitude of the multi-day event. During the discussion, Hall recalled an emotional Blige telling her she’d been dreaming about a moment such as this since 1991.
The women also discussed abortion rights and maternal health, among other issues. Later in the program, Xscape member and Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss discussed the importance of establishing multiple streams of income and reminisced about the time she tried her hand at managing fellow R&B group Jagged Edge. Beatrice Dixon, founder of feminine product brand The Honey Pot, and Monique Rodriguez, founder of natural hair brand Mielle Organics, spoke about operating Black-owned wellness and beauty brands. The summit was also streamed live via Amazon Music’s Twitch channel, starting at 11 a.m. ET. More than 16,000 people had tuned in by 3 p.m.
Festival attendees also had the opportunity to purchase tickets for a comedy show featuring Ms. Pat as well as a concert starring Kiana Lede, Emotional Oranges, Sevyn Streeter, Rubi Rose and others. Both events took place on May 6. The Strength of a Woman Festival’s final event was the May 8 gospel brunch at City Winery featuring Kierra Sheard and Le’Andria Johnson.
Shortly after the summit wrapped, the most anticipated event of the weekend began just after 7:30 p.m. that evening. The Blige-headlined concert at State Farm Arena kept fans dancing and singing along to more than 13 artists until 1 a.m. Featuring a mixture of new and established acts, the show opened with Atlanta rapper Omeretta the Great performing several tracks including her viral song “Sorry Not Sorry,” which unapologetically defines the “real” Atlanta from her perspective.
From there, fellow rapper and reality TV star Baby Tate performed a few of her empowering singles, including the TikTok viral hit “I Am.” Tate also sang one of her newer songs, “What’s Love,” before surprising the audience with an appearance from her mom, Grammy Award- winning singer Dionne Farris. As Farris performed “Hopeless,” a fan fave from 1997’s Love Jones soundtrack, Tate stood by the DJ booth, dancing and singing along to every word.
Following Omeretta and Tate, singer Queen Naija was joined by a live band and four backup dancers as she sang songs such as “Butterflies” and her latest single, the Big Sean-assisted “Hate Our Love.” Wearing a hot-pink bodysuit, the singer also performed “Pack Lite,” which samples Erykah Badu’s “Bag Lady,” as a video of her angrily throwing a suitcase around an abandoned field played on the screens behind her.
“Y’all ready for Mother’s Day? If yo baby daddy ain’t sh–, make some noise,” rapper JT of the City Girls declared halfway through the duo’s set after Queen Naija. As rapper Saucy Santana watched his friends perform from the side of the stage, JT and Yung Miami performed fan favorites such as “I’ll Take Yo Man” in addition to hits such as “Act Up.”
Xscape’s set also paid homage to mothers, but not before the group performed hits such as “Who Can I Run To,” “My Little Secret” and “Just Kickin’ It.” Tameka “Tiny” Harris thanked fans for supporting the group for nearly three decades before inviting her mother, as well as the moms of group members Kandi Burruss, LaTocha and Tameka Scott, to the stage. The mothers received flowers and plaques before Xscape performed “Understanding.”
Minor instances of sound issues throughout the early portion of the concert became extremely apparent during Chaka Khan’s set. “This sh– is crazy,” she said early on, acknowledging that she was struggling to hear herself following a performance of “Do You Love What You Feel.” While repeatedly motioning for the production team to make adjustments, she performed the classics “Tell Me Something Good,” “What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me,” “Ain’t Nobody” and “I’m Every Woman.” By the end of her set, Khan — with her signature red hair cascading down her back — had removed the bottom portion of her long black dress to reveal a bodysuit and fishnet stockings.
It was nearly midnight before Blige arrived onstage, opening with “I Can Love You,” wearing thigh-high boots (in orange), with matching shorts, a long-sleeve shirt and aviator glasses. She didn’t perform many songs from her latest album, Good Morning Gorgeous, but she did go through a number of her most popular songs including “My Life,” “Share My World” and “I’m Goin’ Down,” as well as album cuts such as “I Never Wanna Live Without You” and “Don’t Go” from the 1994 album My Life.
The singer and festival creator was having a great time as she segued into her signature shuffle. She proceeded to welcome a number of surprise guests, including Method Man for a performance of their Grammy-winning song “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By.” She also invited fellow artists Ella Mai and Summer Walker and producer Jermaine Dupri to come onstage. Usher appeared for a duet performance of “Need Love” from Blige’s new album as well as his hit “Bad Girls.” He thanked Blige for inviting him to join her on tour in the ’90s. “You gave me that shot,” he said of the opportunity to open for her early in his career. “That right there is us taking care of our own.”
Blige’s set wasn’t without sound issues, however. After Walker complained of not being able to hear herself, just as Khan did, Blige halted a performance of her recent single “Good Morning Gorgeous” to reprimand the production team. “This song is too special to be f—ing it up tonight,” she said, before beginning again. Blige ended her set with “Just Fine,” a reminder that she refused to let any setbacks derail her overall joy about the event. She likely would’ve kept performing longer had it not been for her team telling her that she’d run out of time.