Two years sober, Mary J. Blige is a survivor of intense childhood trauma, addiction and, today, the vagaries of a no-guarantees music business where being the greatest living diva simply may not be enough. So what did she do? Armed with advice from friends including Bono and Elton, she headed to London to collaborate with Sam Smith and hipsters half her age: "I did it for myself."
Mary J. Blige photographed by Martin Schoelleron Nov. 8, 2014 at Milk Studios in New York City.
“The very first time I went to sing...
“The very first time I went to sing for the president, it made me think of when I was living in Yonkers [N.Y.] and in the projects,” recalls Blige, who now lives in Saddle River, N.J., a small and very pricey suburb of Manhattan. “How did I get here? It makes all the struggle and pain worth it. Every time.”
In July, she hopped on a plane, check...
In July, she hopped on a plane, checked into the Mandarin Oriental Hotel near Hyde Park and emerged a month later with the songs that would become The London Sessions. “I’d been to London before, but I’d never lived in London,” says Blige, who spent her time exploring when she wasn’t working. “I love that city. They understand that music’s not just one genre -- it’s soul music, it’s club music, it’s West Indian music, it’s all kinds of music. It feels so free over there as an artist.”
When she needs advice, there’s one ...
When she needs advice, there’s one musician she’ll always listen to: Elton John, a huge Blige fan and friend, who checks in regularly by phone. “Every time I do something, Elton will give me a call, tell me if I’m on point or if I’m not. He’ll tell me the straight-up truth.” Working on The London Sessions, she took one of his long-standing pieces of advice: “He’ll say, ‘No more of that two-track shit, Mary’ ” -- meaning that she needed to stop being afraid of recording live with a band, as opposed to singing on top of tracks alone in a booth.
Blige still gets a major charge out o...
Blige still gets a major charge out of singing for a crowd, particularly when it comes to performing songs from her troubled past. “It always hurts,” she says. “It’s always right here.” She gestures at her core. “It’s here.”