Mary J. Blige is "The Living Proof"
You know the soulful singer/songwriter/actress Mary J. Blige. She’s racked up nine Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards and has laid down eight multi-platinum albums. Mary has written and performed songs for multiple films like the popular How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Precious.
The new movie The Help, based on the popular novel, so rocked Mary J.’s world that she was inspired to write an emotional song for the movie’s soundtrack. “Living Proof” was written in honor of the resilience of the wonderful African-American characters in the film.
We’re with Mary to touch on her own survival story (Mary was a victim of sexual abuse as a child and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction in later life) and talk future projects and just what type of music made her the hit she is today.
TeenMusic: How did you come to write your emotional song “Living Proof” for The Help?
Mary: The management at my label approached me about seeing a screening of the movie. I saw the movie and I cried so hard, I laughed so hard and got pissed. There was all kind of stuff I was going through and I was encouraged and inspired. I would type on my blackberry each emotion I had while seeing the film. By the time I got to the studio, the song was almost written.
TeenMusic: What is your connection to the American South? Were you told civil rights struggle stories or did you or your relatives live them?
Mary: Both my parents are from Savannah, Georgia and, when we were children, we would go down South every summer and my aunt Laura Belle worked for a wealthy, white family. The children loved her. The family loved her. They were at her funeral. She passed ten years ago. That’s my personal connection.
TeenMusic: How do you deal with the cruelty of one race to another? How do you process that kind of hate?
Mary: I process it like Abileen (played by Viola Davis) did in the film. When she was fired, she said that to forgive your enemies is hard to do but it starts by being honest. The only way we can be free is to forgive our abusers, to forgive racism. That’s the only way to be free and successful in life. If you do anything else you’ll end up in prison or dead.
TeenMusic: These ladies in the film draw a lot on their faith to get them through.
Mary: Well, without God, there is no forgiveness. There is no softening of the heart to recognize that the spirit is what should be the most prominent thing.
TeenMusic: I guess the Abileen character inspired the song but what other characters in the film impressed you?
Mary: Minnie cracked me up. She was very impressive because she was smart with using the pie incident for leverage. I loved her. She gave the movie the balance of comedy. Abileen was the solemn, wise, courageous woman and it was her who gave me the song.
TeenMusic: Would you like to have your songs used in more movies or write more songs especially for films?
Mary: I would like to. I won’t go beating down the doors but if it falls in my lap like it did, I’d love it.
TeenMusic: What did you most want to communicate with your song “Living Proof”?
Mary: Being a survivor, being able to tell your story. I’m a survivor of a lot of things. Being the “living proof”, you’re living to tell someone what not to do or how to do it right. You speak your experience from your heart and are proof that you can survive these things.
TeenMusic: Who was being played all the time when you were growing up?
Mary: My mom would play Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, The Staples Singers, Chaka Kahn, Sam Cook, Otis Redding.
TeenMusic: Who did you really like back then that maybe your mom wouldn’t have liked so much?
Mary: (laughs) As a teenager I was a hip hop head and she’d be like “Turn that noise off!” I loved Chaka Kahn, Tina Marie, Melissa Morgan. There was even a lot of soft rock; Elton John, Marilyn McCoo, Hall and Oates. Stevie Nicks. It was all on the radio then.
TeenMusic: Who are you listening to now?
Mary: I actually like what Adele is doing. It’s incredible. It’s what’s been missing in the music business. Songs. It’s about her experiences. I love what others are doing but she is the real deal.
TeenMusic: What would you have done if you didn’t make it into music?
Mary: I would probably have done hair and nails! (laughs)
TeenMusic: How has your sound changed over the years from the beginning? What has been your evolution as an artist?
Mary: I know my voice has gotten stronger and I’m more confident with what I can do. I’m probably really honest with what I can and can’t do. I do what I do but I can’t ignore the younger generation. I have to let them know that I hear them. I’m a smarter individual, period. My sound is still a lot of soul. I don’t think I could do anything else but I’ll listen to other music and maybe I can cross the two worlds and come out with something completely different.
TeenMusic: Is there someone you’ve not been able to collaborate with that you would love to?
Mary: I never got a chance to work with Anita Baker. I really, need, need, need to do a duet with her. I did something with Bono and U-2 already. There are so many people on my list that I don’t want to say (or I’ll jinx it).
TeenMusic: When you were a tween or teen, did you ever think you would accomplish all the things you have?
Mary: No ma’am! Not at all. A lot of my dreams have come true.
TeenMusic: What would you say to talented young singer/songwriters coming up who don’t see how they can ever really make it?
Mary: Believe in yourself because if you believe it, it’s not about what people think. Keep God first, stay strong and prayed up.
TeenMusic: What about your career as an actress? What’s next?
Mary: I’m about to do a movie called Rock of Ages. It’s the Broadway musical turned into a movie. I didn’t see it on stage but there are a lot of good songs from the ‘80’s. It’s an all-star cast; Tom Cruise is in it, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta Jones and…. me! Then, another one called The Nina Simone Story; just a part of her life.
TeenMusic: What kind of project would you like to do movie-wise that you haven’t done yet?
Mary: A period piece, back in the day or an action hero, something fun and funny, not just everything serious. I can be funny.
TeenMusic: Your life is amazing. Are you going to write a book about it?
Mary: I’m taking meetings with people on it but it would take a lot of going around to my family members and friends and asking them if they are cool with what I’m going to say. I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want that karma. People have been hurt enough. A book is going to take a minute but my life in the music business; I want to create that as a Broadway musical.
TeenMusic: That would be awesome. Do you have a new album coming out?
Mary: Yes. It’s called “My Life 2: The Journey Continues”. The first one was “My Life” and I’m not trying to top it or beat it, it’s just saying my life, my journey goes on and has just begun. It’s supposed to come out October 4th.