What You Never Knew About Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige, otherwise known as the "queen of hip-hop and soul," paved the way for future musicians with her strong powerful vocals and hit albums. Over the course of her career, the New York native has become one of the most influential award-winning singers and songwriters, taking home nine Grammy Awards throughout her career (per her official website). A trailblazer in the music industry, Blige single-handedly changed R&B music by pouring her heart and soul into each of her albums and iconic singles, such as like "Real Love," "Be Without You," and "Family Affair."

As much as Mary J. Blige has become an absolute icon in the music industry and is adored by many of her fans, she hasn't always had the easiest life. She is no stranger to overcoming adversity, and she faced plenty of hardships throughout her childhood and time in the spotlight that pushed her to become her current successful self. You may be familiar with bits and pieces of Blige's life story, but if you are not, allow us to break down the parts of her past you may not know. 

She had an incredibly tough childhood

From a very young age, Mary J. Blige was exposed to endless amounts of violence, alcohol, and drug abuse in the environments she lived in. Her father, Thomas, was abusive and left their family when she was just 4 years old (via Biography). Blige and her mother, Cora, soon moved to public housing projects in Yonkers, New York. Sadly, she often witnessed abuse towards other women around her, and she watched her mother struggle with alcoholism. Blige revealed during an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" that during this time she also suffered from sexual abuse from a family friend (via New York Daily News). She said, "The shame of thinking my molestation was my fault — it led me to believe I wasn't worth anything." 

In her teenage years, she dropped out of high school (via The Washington Post) and turned to sex and substance abuse to cope with her traumas. "I ended up becoming my environment," she told Parade magazine in 2007 (via New York Daily News).

In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Blige spoke about reliving some of the traumatizing moments in her childhood for her documentary, "Mary J. Blige: My Life." "That was painful because the most painful part is, 'Why so much stuff, so much stuff had to happen to a little girl?'" she said.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org for additional resources.

She was the youngest female artist to sign up with Uptown Records

Given Mary J. Blige's rough upbringing, the story behind how she entered the music scene is pretty iconic. The soul artist has always had a passion for music growing up and spent a lot of time listening to her mother's soul records and singing in a Pentecostal church in her free time (via Britannica). 

One day, Blige took a trip to her local mall just like any teenager would, and sang a cover of Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture." Impressed by her authentic talent at just 17 years old, her mother's boyfriend at the time shared the recording of her rendition with Uptown Records' Jeff Redd, who later showed it to the CEO, Andre Harrell. It is safe to say they were blown away with her voice, because Blige became both the first female artist and the youngest artist to sign with the label in 1989, ultimately kickstarting her career (via Lifetime). With producer Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy) guiding her into stardom, she started off singing backup while she was still living in the projects before her debut album "What's the 411?" was released in 1992 (via Vanity Fair).

Each of her albums outlines a different season of her life

Over the course of 29 years, Mary J. Blige has become a powerhouse in the music industry. She's produced eight multi-platinum albums and released numerous No. 1 hits, including "You Remind Me" and "Real Love," per her official website. If you are a longtime fan of Blige's soulful, emotional, and passionate tunes, then you know that each album outlines different stages of her life.

For example, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Blige described how album "My Life" came to be, saying, "I was going through a lot, so this was my way of speaking and trying to get all this stuff out of my heart. ... kind of a cry for help." 

Blige also explained how she normally names albums after "the things that I'm living through or attacking," which is what led her to "No More Drama." "I was tired," she said. "I was sick and tired of being sad and depressed and hating myself." Regarding her 2005 album, "The Breakthrough," Blige shared that, after started the healing process during "No More Drama," she just "needed a breakthrough in this healing." 

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She found love and a lot of heartbreak

Mary J. Blige found real love when she tied the knot in 2003 with Martin "Kendu" Isaacs. According to People, Blige filed for divorce from Isaacs in 2016, ending their 12-year marriage as he was allegedly unfaithful to her and spent more than $420,000 on "travel charges" for him and his girlfriend. Isaacs claimed that during this time he was hospitalized from the stress of their public breakup, which People reported could have been an attempt to receive financial support from the "Family Affair" singer. Their divorce ended up taking a whopping two years and wasn't completely finalized until 2018. 

Since her divorce, Blige has been focused on building herself up and keeping her head high. In an interview with Taraji P. Henson in an episode of "Peace of Mind with Taraji" in December 2020, Blige opened up about her feelings of loneliness since the split. "It gets lonely and it gets sad, but, you know, I just gotta thug this out until something excellent comes along," she said. Although those times have been tough, she made it clear to her fans that she isn't going to hold herself back from finding love once more. "I'm not gonna deprive myself of living ... I'm not gonna deprive myself of romance, if ever it shows up."

She started her own organization to inspire women

Mary J. Blige had high hopes for the launch of her organization The Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now. Her goal is to use her personal life experiences to inspire struggling women in similar situations and provide them with educationand resources to get better help (via HuffPost). However, in 2012, the charity was hit with multiple lawsuits after some suspicious financial activity resurfaced. 

The New York Post reported that Blige's charity not only didn't have an office or official telephone number, but it also didn't file any tax returns in 2010 and was missing hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. According to TMZ, TD Bank sued the "Real Love" singer after a $250,000 loan was taken out in June 2011. The bank claimed the organization agreed to have the loan repaid by December 2011, but the bank only received $368.33.

Since this incident, the singer has hired a new team of managers to run her organization and took matters into her own hands after claiming her charity was not run by the right people. "As founder and CEO of FFAWN, I am ultimately responsible for anything that goes wrong," she stated. "The problem is that I didn't have the right people in the right places doing the right things. This should have never been allowed to happen, but it did and now we are fixing it." 

She made her TV debut on The Jamie Foxx Show

By now, you may know that Mary J. Blige is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to her music. But did you know that she's also a trailblazer in TV and film as well? The timeline of her acting career dates all the way back to 1998, when she made her first televised debut as an actress on "The Jamie Foxx Show" (via IMDb). At this time, she was already a well-known and established artist, so her premiere on the '90s sitcom was highly anticipated (via Billboard). Blige played the role of Ola Mae, the preacher's daughter in the "Papa Don't Preach" episode, in which she performed two musical numbers, including a rendition of the original song "Share My World." According to People, her character was loosely centered on her upbringing and how she wanted to break into the music industry.

In 2001, Blige entered the film world by starring in the indie drama "Prison Song." Since then, she has gone on to premiere in bigger and better projects, including her roles in "Entourage," "30 Rock," "Empire," "The Umbrella Academy," and "Black-ish." In 2017, she landed the role of Florence Jackson in Netflix's "Mudbound," which earned her two Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song in 2018 (via NBC News).

She launched her own production company, Blue Butterfly

As of June 2019, the "Family Affair" singer can officially add producer to her well-established resume. Deadline reported that Mary J. Blige launched a brand new production company, Blue Butterfly, and signed a first-look TV deal with Lionsgate. She'll have the opportunity to develop and produce shows. "I couldn't be more excited to be working with Lionsgate," Blige said in a statement after news broke (via The Hollywood Reporter). "They are incredible collaborators and have been natural partners from when we first started talking. I can't wait to bring all of our projects to life."

In November 2020, Blige teamed up with Curtis Jackson, otherwise known as 50 Cent, with whom she worked on Starz's "Power Book II: Ghost," to produce a new ABC comedy titled "Family Affair" (via The Hollywood Reporter). The show is centered on an R&B star whose bachelor lifestyle gets flipped upside down when he is unexpectedly thrown into fatherhood and suddenly raising his sister's four musically gifted children. Deadline reported that Blige and Curtis will incorporate their background and knowledge working in the music industry into the musical aspects of the sitcom. 

She's involved in the fashion and beauty industries

In 2018, Mary J. Blige and her long-time friend and designer Simone I. Smith organized a jewelry line, Sister Love (via ABC News Radio). According to the official Sister Love website, the collaboration is built upon on strength, friendship, and the empowerment of women. People reported that the brand even has their own hashtag, "#Queenz Rek-a-Nize Queenz." "#QueenzRekanizeQueenz means every strong, beautiful, confident and powerful woman can respect, recognize, love and support another strong, beautiful, confident, powerful woman," Blige said.

Not only does she have a jewelry line, but Blige has a makeup collection as well. In June 2019, she launched her own lipstick line "Love Me Lipstick" with MAC Cosmetics (via PopSugar). The launch of this line was major, as it celebrated both MAC's 25th anniversary and the 25th anniversary of Blige's sophomore album, "My Life." "It's the perfect time to do something like this," she said. "And here we are today doing this lovely [collaboration] and I chose the Love Me line because that's exactly what I'm doing right now. Loving me."

Additionally, back in 2010, Blige launched a fragrance line named after her "My Life" album (via PopSugar). She said this fragrance was designed specifically to her fans as a "tribute to us as women." 

She got into the wine business in 2020

In recent years, celebrities have begun investing more and more into creating their own alcohol brands. From Kendall Jenner's 818 Tequila to Brad Pitt's Fleur de Miraval, major celebs are producing the best alcoholic drinks for your pleasure so you can sit back and sip like a true superstar. So naturally, Mary J. Blige had to get in on this action.

The Food Network reported in June 2020 that Blige launched a collaboration with Fantinel Winery to produce Sun Goddess Wines. Her collection is advertised as a group of wines that are "perfect for summer," including an Italian Pinot Grigio Ramato (Blige's personal favorite of the two) and a crisp Italian Sauvignon Blanc. Her main goal with her collaboration with Fantinel Winery was to convey the sensation in her wines that she has "long tried to capture from the sun."

In an interview with Italian winemaker Marco Fantinel, Blige discusses how the origin of the brand's name stems from her love of the sun's warmth as a child and the nickname her sister gave her as a kid, Sun Goddess. "She gave me the name Sun Goddess and I ran with it because I think that wine is very ... compatible to the sun. It changes the mood, it warms your body, it makes you happy. It changes everything; it makes everything lighter" she said. "Why not have a wine be compared to the sun? Because it makes everybody smile."

My Life, her most personal album, sparked a 2021 documentary

"My Life," Mary J. Blige's 1994 sophomore album, is her deepest, darkest, and most personal album out of her entire discography. So it makes sense that the queen of R&B's Amazon Prime documentary, "Mary J. Blige's My Life," released in June 2021, focused heavily on the singer's struggles. These included drug use, depression, and her experience in an abusive relationship (via Vogue). "'My Life' is probably my darkest album at one of the darkest times I've had," she said in the trailer for the documentary. "Most of the time I was just depressed and didn't want to live. I had it all inside and I was able to sing it and write it, and I didn't know that so many people felt the same way." 

She channeled all of the pain she experienced in the early years into "My Life," and although this album is her darkest, it helped her find peace and comfort moving forward. "The sadness in that album, it's very triumphant now," she said in the documentary (via New York Post). 

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

She is fully focused on healing

It is no question that Mary J. Blige has achieved many great things in her personal and professional lives. Now, many of her fans are wondering when the right time will be for her to welcome children into the world since she never had any during her marriage. At this point in time, Blige is using her energy to focus on her mental health and healing her inner child, instead of nurturing and mothering children of her own. "Right now it's about me and little Mary. It's like that's my baby, my little girl," she said in an October 2019 interview with Self. "She needs my help ... and I'm not going to ever let anybody hurt her again."

Blige stated that although she has faced plenty of adversity and struggles in her life, especially during the process of writing her album "My Life," her life is now completely different from what it used to be, and she loves everything about it. "I love the fact that ['My Life'] is my testimony, and I'm here to speak about it. The fact that it was a dark, suicidal album, and I'm here now to celebrate 25 years — I'm living."