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Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige


Mary J. Blige has something to tell you about fighting AIDS, creating a hot new album and doing the hard work of living with joy.

Mary J. Blige has a fantastic body, fit and surprisingly curvy. Today it's poured into a pair of formfitting jeans, a chic orange turtleneck, and dark leather boots. Huge, dark sunglasses set off her trademark blond bob wig. She's curled up in a chair in a small room at the Beverly Hills Hotel after our lunch downstairs, her legs dangling over the arm. She stares out the window as her husband-manager Kendu Isaacs puts a CD-R of songs from her new album, Growing Pains, in the room's outdated CD player. As the beat-driven music starts to play, Mary drops her head slightly forward and nods hard to the beat. Her entire upper torso jooks in classic B-girl style. She sings along to the words, going into her own zone. This is career-high music for Mary -- some of her best singing, strongest songwriting, and most inspired production ever. But it's likely to further alienate many of the fans that vibe to Miserable Mary, Addicted Mary, Depressed and Suicidal Mary. The new material is a continuation of the process begun on her Grammy award-winning 2005 album, The Breakthrough -- Mary's chronicling of her new and hard-won states of mind and being. She's happy. When told that the album, which was then a month and a half from being released, would likely inspire grumblings of dissatisfaction among some of her old fans, Mary swings her legs around, sits up straight, and says in that globally famous no-bullshit voice, "Thank you. That's honest, what you just gave back. I like that."

Actually, throughout our conversation, honesty is what Mary J. Blige gives me. It's well-known that celebrities come to this magazine to send a little love to their big gay following, but often enough, that's just business. This is different. This is deeper. "The majority of my fans are gay," Mary says matter-of-factly. "The majority of them are, and I have to really make sure that they know I'm paying attention to the fact that they support me, and I support them."

Asked at what point she realized that the children had made her their own, she immediately replies, "I realized that years ago. Like, probably during...was it ShareMyWorld or Mary? It was probably during the Mary album that I realized I had so many gay fans, because one of my managers at the time was gay and him and all his friends were die-hard Mary fans. And then there's a lot of gay women that love Mary J. Blige -- a slew of gay women. And that's never been something to bother me. Never. Because we're all people at the end of the day." She pauses for a second, then continues.

"When I was growing up," she says thoughtfully, "my neighborhood was full of everyone -- black, white, Latino, gay, straight. A lot of people that I knew were gay, but they were great people. They were good people. It's not like they were alien. They were just people. That [acceptance] was just something that was always in me. I've never been a judgmental person because I have been through so much hell myself..."

And you yourself have been judged, I say to her.

"Exactly. I've been judged so much that I'd be a fool, or I'd be dead wrong to myself, to have something negative to say about anyone that's doing anything that's their choice, you know what I mean?"

In the fight against AIDS, Blige has done more than support from the sidelines. She has jumped in on our side. Longtime fans know of her involvement with AIDS organizations and awareness programs like Minority AIDS Project and her being a spokeswoman for MAC cosmetics' Viva Glam III and IV campaigns. The death of her friend and songwriter Kenny Greene (who was responsible for many of MJB's early hits, most notably "Love No Limit" and "My Love") was her personal impetus for involvement in the cause. But it was noticing the silence around the disease that finally prompted Blige to take action.

"I was motivated," she says, "by the fact that it came and was so huge, and then all of a sudden it disappeared, and it was the thing that everybody swept under the rug. It was the elephant in the room that nobody's looking at. It made me be like, Oh, this is right at our front door. This can touch us. So why wouldn't I want to get involved with something that can help save all our lives, save everybody's lives? That's why I wanted to get involved, because I knew that..." She pauses. "I had friends that... One of my gay friends that was a songwriter with me, Kenny Greene, was one of my really good friends and he died from AIDS. I was like..." She sighs deeply and falls silent before resuming the conversation. "And then everybody was just dropping off, dropping off, dropping off, but no one was saying anything."

Of course, part of that silence is rooted in homophobia, either inflicted or absorbed. Or both. And while much mainstream conventional wisdom (catch the layered oxymoron there) has it that the African-American and hip-hop communities are more homophobic than whites, Mary doesn't see it that way.

"The real hip-hop," she stresses, "the real people don't even care about that. They'll love you and accept you no matter what because they know who they are. There are a lot of people trying to figure out who they are and what they're gonna be. There's a lot of confusion in that. Confusion causes a lack of identity.

"I've heard a couple of guys say foul things, and those guys are not around me anymore because when they say things like that, I'm looking at them like, What makes you so scared? You don't know who you are? I guess it all boils down to them not being sure about themselves and what they wanna do, whoever that is. I won't say any names. And I don't dislike them or anything -- it just makes me wonder about them period. 'Cause if you're not sure about that, then you ain't sure about a lotta things!" she laughs.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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