As an almost 33 years old woman, when I reflect back on the childhood version of myself there is one word that immediately comes to mind "awkward." I know that may seem like a cliché answer that one gives when describing a past version of themselves but here me out Sis! I was a middle child, raised in a relatively small town, by a single mother who worked a ton. Of course, she was doing what needed to be done to provide for myself and my two siblings, but it left us spending a lot of time to entertain ourselves or each other. I was introverted, shy, extremely sensitive, and spent a lot of time with my books. Can anyone relate?!
Thinking about it now, I find it interesting that the only thing that got me to come out my shell was singing and dancing! Yes! I would sing and dance along to the radio and recite music videos all over the house! I was an okay dancer, but a terrible singer! Couldn’t hold a note to save my life but that didn’t stop me at all! So when I sat down to write this post, my mind automatically went back to that young girl singing until her sister gave here "the look." It instantly went back to the many female musicians and entertainers who helped me go from that shy girl to the strong, confident woman that I am today. And after going through many great artists, my mind rested on one that I’ve been rocking with from Day 1! The Queen of Hip Hop Soul herself, Ms. Mary J. Blige.
Yes, Sis! I love me some MJB. And I know I'm not alone. Born in Brooklyn, New York, her childhood wasn't easy. She had loving parents but both with their sets of problems. An alcoholic mother and a father, a Veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who regularly abused her mother.
Hoping to escape from that life her mother moved their family to the projects in Yonkers, New York, where Mary only experienced more horrific things. She’s stated in interviews she essentially became a product of her environment. After dropping out of high school, she found herself in a cycle of addiction, alcoholism, and abuse. Her self-worth and self-respect were low, and she allowed those negative influences to take hold of her life. But even in all that ugliness, she held something beautiful. An unrivaled voice which she relinquished regularly in church and a voice that ultimately rescued her from those tragic circumstances.
After a demo she recorded landed with the CEO of Uptown Records, she was signed to a contract and burst on the scene with her Debut Album “What’s the 411?” which sold over 3 million albums and turned her into a household name. I know you remember where you were when "Real Love" and "You Remind Me" were dominating the charts! But that was only the beginning. The albums and the hits kept coming. "My Life," "Share My World," "No More Drama', "The Breakthrough" and so much more. And all the while, I was along for the ride.
The young girl turned into a teenager, young adult, and finally this woman still riding the waves of emotion that came courtesy of Mary J. Blige’s music. The highs-lows, ups-downs, heartbreaks, new beginnings, and yes even love. In my opinion, there is no artist that sings a woman’s truth like Mary J. Blige!
But even after all the accolades and successes which include 9 Grammy Awards, 10 Billboard Music Awards, 4 American Music Awards, multiple multi-platinum albums and the list goes on and on. She has stayed true to herself and her individual personality and style. From the fly girl with the baggy clothes, boots, and hats, to the soulful sister with big earrings and dark glasses, to the regalness of a queen, she has allowed her style and her music to evolve on her own terms.
So as Women’s History Month starts to come to a close, I salute this brilliant musician who has played a significant role not only in my life but the lives of millions of woman who can relate to the stories she tell courtesy of her lyrics. A salute to someone who has by all appearances remained true to who she is, Mary from the Bronx!
I know you have at least one Mary song that still sticks and resonates with you and I’d love to hear about it! Find me on social media and drop it in the comments Hope you enjoyed, and can’t wait to chat next month!
**The Life & Style Pretty aka Keyva Jo is an Atlanta-based Life & Style Blogger who writes about navigating life as a 30 something unapologetically millennial ambitious woman. She is committed to using her platform as a place for women to share, learn, and grow from each other’s experiences. You can find her blog at www.keyvajo.com and follow her on Instagram @iamkeyvajo.