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Mary J. Blige

  b. 1971 | American singer

At The Bottom

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

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At The Top - Mary J. Blige at the height of success
The Comeback - Mary J. Blige fight back to the top

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