Mary J Blige burst onto the music scene three decades ago with an undeniable swagger and powerful singing voice. Blige was often noted for the tough exterior he kept, especially given the struggles he sang faithfully in his music. At one point his attitude became a problem even for his team which he wanted to fix.
Mary J. Blige’s childhood
Blige has been honest ever since she first debuted that her life hasn’t been easy. She grew up at Schlobohm Housing Projects in Yonkers, New York, at the height of the rift epidemic, and from an early age was often seen with abuse and addiction. She admitted to sexual abuse when she was just five years old.
Blige talks about her experience growing up on projects in her 2021 documentary Mary J. Blige’s My Life. “I think [what] People don’t understand about the families that live in the projects, it’s like a prison – it’s like a prison inside a prison,” she said earnestly. “People who hurt people are hurting people who hurt each other.”
Mary J. Blige’s hard exterior
What helped Blige overcome this was his love for singing, which he had received from his mother. “Singing was an escape for me,” she said. “Singing made me forget that we were struggling a lot. It just made me forget that I was going through what I was going through. Even as a little girl, I had feelings of insecurities and I was always blue and always sad, but singing made me feel free. And that’s what I had. I held onto that.”
Nevertheless, Blige kept his love for music a secret from those around him. “It wasn’t like I was telling everyone I was going to be a singer,” she admitted. “I didn’t dream big or think for a moment that it was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to be this big star,’ because our environment didn’t tell us that. Our environment told us it was him.
“If I was ever dreaming, I wouldn’t dream anymore, especially as we became teenagers,” she continued. “It just got worse, so I said, ‘I’m not going to see these people smiling at me too much. The truth is, they’ll never see me smiling.’ I never used to smile when I was a teenager.”
Mary J. Blige took pride in her ‘ghetto fabulous’ style in the ’90s for this reason
Mary J. Blige’s Etiquette School Experience
After becoming a signed recording artist, Blige’s team became more concerned about his public image. In a 2021 interview with Page Six, she revealed that they even took etiquette classes for her so that she doesn’t look so cold and look more attractive in interviews.
“He tried to replace me earlier in my career,” Blige said. “They sent me to etiquette school, and all kinds of things, but I couldn’t feel it because I wasn’t feeling myself.”
“I just did it because that’s who I was — and I wasn’t standing upright,” she said. “I had to evolve into these gowns, and develop into walking with my back straight.”