Dubbed the queen of hip-hop soul, with a multi-platinum career ever since her early-'90s debut.
On January 11, 1971, was born, Mary Jane Blige, often referred to as the "Queen of hip-hop soul," an R&B soul singer, songwriter and actress who sold over 60 million records world-wide.
A recipient of nine Grammy Awards, in addition to receiving a record of thirty Grammy nominations, Blige is one of few entertainers in history to have eight or more albums to reach multi-platinum status. My Life, in particular, is considered among the greatest albums ever recorded according to Rolling Stone, Time, and Vibe magazines. For her part in combining hip-hop and soul in the early-1990s and its subsequent commercial success, Blige received the Legends Award at the World Music Awards. Blige also received the Voice of Music Award from performance rights organization ASCAP, with its official Jeanie Weems stating that "[Blige's] music has been the voice of inspiration to women worldwide in both struggle and triumph." Blige made Time magazine's "Time 100" list of influential individuals around the world in 2007.
When her debut album, What's the 411?, hit the street in 1992, critics and fans alike were floored by its powerful combination of modern R&B with an edgy rap sound that glanced off of the pain and grit of Mary J. Blige's Yonkers, New York childhood. Called alternately the new Chaka Khan or new Aretha Franklin, Blige had little in common stylistically with either of those artists, but like them, she helped adorn soul music with new textures and flavors that inspired a whole generation of musicians. With her blonde hair, self-preserving slouch, and combat boots, Blige was street-tough and beautiful all at once, and the record company execs who profited off of her early releases did little to dispel the bad-girl image that she earned as she stumbled through the dizzying first days of her career. As she exorcized her personal demons and softened her style to include sleek designer clothes, she remained a hero to thousands of girls growing up in the same kinds of rough places she came from. Blige reinvented her career again and again by shedding the bad habits and bad influences that kept her down; by the time her fourth album, Mary, was released in 1999, she had matured into an expressive singer able to put the full power of her voice behind her music, while still reflecting a strong urban style. With her fifth album, No More Drama, it wasn't just Blige's style that shone through the structures set up for her by songwriters and producers, it was her own vision -- spiritual, emotional, personal, and full of wisdom, it reflected an artist who was comfortable with who she was and how far she had come.
Born in the Bronx on January 11, 1971, Blige spent the first few years of her life in Savannah, Georgia before moving with her mother and older sister to the Schlobam housing projects in Yonkers, New York. Her rough life there produced more than a few scars, physical and otherwise, and Blige dropped out of high school during her junior year, instead spending time doing her friends' hair in her mother's apartment and hanging out. When she was at a local mall in White Plains, New York, she recorded herself singing Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture" into a karaoke machine. The resulting tape was passed by Blige's stepfather to Uptown Records CEO Andre Harrell. Harrell was impressed with Blige's voice and signed her to sing backup for local acts like Father MC. In 1991, however, Sean "Puffy" Combs took Blige under his wing and began working with her on What's the 411?, her debut album. Combs had a heavy hand in What's the 411?, along with producers Dave Hall, Mark Morales, and Mark Rooney, and the stylish touches that they added to Blige's unique vocal style created a stunning album that bridged the gap between R&B and rap in a way that no female singer had before. Uptown tried to capitalize on the success of What's the 411? by issuing a remixed version of it a year later, but it was only a modest success creatively and commercially.
Her 1995 follow-up, My Life, again featured Combs' handiwork, and if it stepped back stylistically from its urban roots by featuring less of a rap sound, it made up for it with its subject matter. My Life was full of ghetto pathos and Blige's own personal pain shone through like a beacon. Her rocky relationship with fellow Uptown artist K-Ci Hailey likely contributed to the raw emotions on the album. The period following the recording of My Life was also a difficult time professionally for Blige, as she severed her ties with Combs and Uptown, hired Suge Knight as a financial advisor, and signed with MCA.
Released in 1997, Share My World marked the beginning of Blige's creative partnerships with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album was another hit for Blige and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Critics soured somewhat on its more conventional soul sound, but Blige's fans seemed undaunted. By the time her next studio album, Mary, came out in 1999, the fullness and elegance of her new sound seemed more developed, as Blige exuded a classic soul style aided by material from Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Stevie Wonder, and Lauryn Hill. Mary made it obvious that the ghetto-fabulous style and more confrontational aspects of her music were gone, while the emotive power still remained.
That power also helped carry the more modern-sounding 2001 release No More Drama, a deeply personal album that remained a collective effort musically yet reflected more of Blige's songwriting than any of her previous efforts. The Mary J. Blige on No More Drama seemed miles away from the flashy kid on What's the 411?, yet it was still possible to see the path through her music that produced an older, wiser, but still expressive artist. In 2003 she was reunited with P. Diddy, who produced the majority of that year's patchy Love and Life album. The Breakthrough followed two years later and was a tremendous success, spawning a handful of major singles. By the December 2006 release of Reflections (A Retrospective), The Breakthrough's lead single, "Be Without You," had spent nearly a year on the R&B chart, while the album's fifth single, "Take Me as I Am," had been on the same chart for over four months.
A year later Blige came out with her eighth studio album, Growing Pains. It was her third consecutive studio album to top both the Billboard 200 and the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. While on tour with Robin Thicke during 2008, Blige began working on Stronger with Each Tear, which was released near the end of the following year and came one spot short of topping the Billboard 200. My Life II...The Journey Continues (Act 1), previewed through the Eric Hudson-produced single "25/8," followed in 2011 with appearances from Beyoncé, Drake, Rick Ross, and Busta Rhymes. Like her previous nine studio albums, it reached gold status. (Her first eight surpassed gold to reach either platinum or multi-platinum status.) Her first holiday album, A Mary Christmas, was released in 2013.
Early in 2014, she linked with Disclosure for an alternate version of the U.K. dance-production duo's single "F for You." A few months later, Blige -- supported by extensive assistance from the-Dream and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, as well as a few other associates -- provided the soundtrack to the comedy Think Like a Man Too. It entered the Billboard Top 200 at number 30 and also reached the Top Ten on Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. Released on Epic, rather than on her home label, it didn't receive the typical level of promotion for a Blige album and, as a result, sold significantly less than her prior releases. Inspired by Disclosure and other genre-blurring singer/songwriters and producers who were emerging from the U.K., she recorded her 13th album in London that summer with the likes of Sam Smith, Naughty Boy, and Emeli Sandé, as well as Disclosure once more. The London Sessions, her first album for Capitol, was released that November.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
An eclectic soul singer, pianist, and songwriter who enjoyed popularity and acclaim well beyond the name recognition afforded by her famous father.
Natalie Maria Cole (February 6, 1950 – December 31, 2015) was an American singer, songwriter, and performer. The daughter of Nat King Cole, Natalie rose to musical success in the mid–1970s as an R&B artist with the hits "This Will Be", "Inseparable", and "Our Love". After a period of failing sales and performances due to a heavy drug addiction, Cole re-emerged as a pop artist with the 1987 album Everlasting and her cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac". In the 1990s, she re-recorded standards by her father, resulting in her biggest success, Unforgettable... with Love, which sold over seven million copies and also won Cole numerous Grammy Awards. She sold over 30 million records worldwide.
On December 31, 2015, Cole died at the age of 65 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Califonia, due to persistent health complications
The daughter of jazz and pop legend Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole forged a successful career in three phases. She began in the '70s as a soul-rooted artist, had success in the '80s with pop-oriented R&B material, and then followed in the footsteps of her father with traditional pop as her foundation from the '90s through the early 2010s. From 1976 through 2009, she won nine Grammy awards, including Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female ("This Will Be," 1976), Album of the Year (Unforgettable...With Love, 1992), and Best Traditional Vocal Pop Album (Still Unforgettable, 2009).
Cole made her stage debut at age 11 and sang in college. She met the writing and producing team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey in 1973. The next year they collaborated on some sessions that were recorded at Curtis Mayfield's Curtom studios in Chicago. These helped her land a deal with Capitol, and she teamed with Jackson/Yancey for a string of hit albums and singles from 1975 until 1983. Such LPs as Inseparable, Natalie, Thankful, Unpredictable, and I Love You So yielded five number one R&B hits between 1975 and 1977. These included "This Will Be, "Inseparable," "Our Love," and "I've Got Love on My Mind." She stayed with Capitol until 1983, then switched to Epic for her final album with the Jackson/Yancey tandem. She scored more hits with "Jump Start," "I Live for Your Love," and "Over You" in 1987, and "Pink Cadillac," a cover of a Bruce Springsteen tune, in 1988, as she eased into another stylistic shift of focus.
Cole fully embraced traditional pop with the 1991 LP Unforgettable...With Love, which reached number one on the Billboard album chart, sold over five million copies, and won a handful of Grammy awards, including Record of the Year and Best Traditional Pop Performance for the title track -- a duet with her father (via his 1961 recording). She continued the trend with Take a Look in 1993, and she toured and did television specials working with a large orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle. Holly & Ivy (1994) and Stardust (1996) both continued Cole's exploration of American pop standards. Snowfall on the Sahara and The Magic of Christmas, the latter of which was recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra, were issued at the end of the decade. Ask a Woman Who Knows (2002) and Leavin' (2006) followed for Verve. Cole then moved to Rhino for Still Unforgettable (2008), another collection of pop standards that won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal album. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2010) found Cole teamed up with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for the sake of a Christmas special originally broadcast on PBS. Like some of her father's late-'50s releases, En Español (2013) was an all-Spanish set. She was joined by the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Juan Luis Guerra, Arturo Sandoval, and, on "Acércate Más" ("Come Closer to Me"), her father via a 1958 version.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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