Photo: Kevin Sessums
Via LA Confidential: Blige, 42, has been an indomitable force in the music business for more than two decades, ever since Sean “Diddy” Combs, her friend, mentor, and executive producer of her first album, took her under his professional wing. She has gone on to sell more than 50 million albums and is the only artist to have won Grammy Awards in four categories (R&B, Rap, Gospel, and Pop), having been nominated for the award 29 times, and winning nine.
She has also begun an acting career. She’s been in the requisite Tyler Perry movie and last fall completed the upcoming Lifetime Network film Betty and Coretta, about the widows of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., in which she stars as Dr. Betty Shabazz opposite Angela Bassett’s Coretta Scott King.
Married for the past nine years to Kendu Isaacs, Blige has come a long way from her troubled past. Born in the Bronx , the daughter of Thomas, a musician, and Cora, a nurse, she grew up in Yonkers, New York, where she attended the charismatic Pentecostal church.
It was a hardscrabble life. And yet she bears her emotional scars with dignity. After we were introduced, we curled up together on a sofa in the corner of the photo studio. As she sank into the cushions—giving the brim of her newsboy cap a jauntier tilt as she did so—we dug into just how hard-won such dignity has been for her. Blige, the artist, has always used “sampling” in her music; here’s a “sampling” of my conversation with Blige, the woman.
KEVIN SESSUMS: I can’t wait to see you channeling Betty Shabazz. She and Malcolm X had six daughters.
KS: If they had had a seventh one they could have named her Synesthesia.
KS: I think a lot of Betty Shabazz’s empathetic—even wounded—dignity can be traced back to when she was the daughter of an unwed teenager herself back in Detroit. Can your empathy, your dignity, be traced back to your own wounded childhood?
KS: Somebody did hurt you. You were molested. I’ve written about my own molestation—though some people think those kinds of things should be kept to oneself.
KS: For so many of us your song “No More Drama” became a kind of key out of the prisons of our own pain—whether it was from abuse or molestation or drug addiction or alcoholism. You were preaching to us, Mary.
KS: You’ve spoken openly about your addictions as well.