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Profiles of Mary J. Blige, Melissa Etheridge

Aired February 14, 2004 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, she's the hip-hop diva whose love and life have been anything but drama free.


SWAY CALLOWAY, MTV NEWS CORRESPONDENT: She said, "You know what? I've almost committed suicide. I drank alcohol. I've taken cocaine. No more dramas."


ANNOUNCER: From childhood in the projects...


MARY J. BLIGE, SINGER: We had a crack head living with us.


ANNOUNCER: overnight ghetto superstar.


TOURE, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "ROLLING STONE" MAGAZINE: There's something in her that represents everybody's who's working class, everybody who's downtrodden.


ANNOUNCER: She spiraled out of control only to return from the brink.


KENDU ISAACS, HUSBAND: The "No More Drama" album was the end of the confusion for Mary J. Blige.


ANNOUNCER: Now, she's back with a brand new album, a brand new life, a brand new love. We go one on one with Mary J. Blige.


MELISSA ETHERIDGE, SINGER/SONGWRITER: I don't care what they think...


ANNOUNCER: ...she's a female rocker whose songs are as open as her life.


ETHERIDGE: I don't care what they say.

My personal life is probably larger than my music now.


ANNOUNCER: She struggled not only with her sexuality...


ETHERIDGE: Realizing I was gay was a long sort of waking up.


ANNOUNCER: ...but also with revealing a dark childhood secret.


ETHERIDGE: I played the fool today...


ANNOUNCER: Now, she puts her painful past behind her and regroups with a new album and a new love.


ETHERIDGE: It's a very good time in my life. I've learned a lot. I've grown. I'm in a really fine direction right now.

I'm all right. I'm all right.


ANNOUNCER: An intimate look at Melissa Etheridge. Their stories and more now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi. Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paul Zahn. Mary J. Blige is the reining queen of hip-hop, a soulful superstar with a sharp urban edge. She's never been afraid to tell it like it is or how it was, and that has Blige R&B royalty. But her life hasn't always been so regal. In fact, at times it has been down right dangerous. Here's Solidad O'Brien.


SOLIDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once upon a complicated time, an embattled hip-hop diva delivered a simple statement, "No More Drama." More than a song, it became an anthem. More than a pledge, it became a vow.

ISAACS: The "No More Drama" album was the end of the confusion for Mary J. Blige. It was the beginning of the end, I should say, actually.

O'BRIEN: After a decade in the business, including seven albums, two Grammy's and 13 million albums sold, that 2001 multiplatinum record ushered in a brand new, redesigned queen of hip-hop soul.

BLIGE: I was saying no to hate for myself, to men abusing women, women abusing themselves, women lying to themselves, to the war. And I was saying no more.

CALLOWAY: She said, "You know what? OK. I've almost committed suicide. I damaged my body. I damaged my spirit. I damaged my brain. No more drama. I'm done with it. Let it out!"

O'BRIEN: Two years later, the metamorphosis continues. In August 2003, her latest, "Love and Life" debuted at No.1. Its 18 tracks mark not only the reunion of Mary and her first producer, Sean P. Diddy Combs, after a bitter break-up, but also the debut of a clean and sober Mary J.

BLIGE: Looking at you from a distance...

O'BRIEN: A hard one state for a singer whose pain helped define a generation.

TOURE: There's something in her that represents everybody's who's working class, everybody's downtrodden, everybody's who had, you know, a baby for the guy and he left her.

ISAACS: She totally gave you her life. Love it or hate it, it's Mary.

O'BRIEN: She was born Mary Jane Blige on January 11, 1971 in the Bronx, the second of two children. Her mother, Cora, was a nurse. Her father, Thomas, a musician. But by Mary's fourth birthday, Thomas Blige had largely vanished.

ISAACS: Her father leaving her life definitely affected the woman she became, especially as a daughter, when the first man you ever love leaves you.

O'BRIEN: With little money, the family landed in one of New York's roughest housing projects, the Yonkers-based Schlobam Gardens. For nearly two decades, Building No. 5, Apartment 537 was home.

BLIGE: The earliest I can remember is five years old. At five years old, I was really trusting. I loved hard. I wanted everybody to be friends just probably like every other little 5-year-old girl. O'BRIEN: But just months following the family's move, Mary's innocent life took an abrupt and dark turn.

BLIGE: Well, I was molested at 5 years old. And I trusted this person to take care of me and make sure I was OK, and they hurt me.

O'BRIEN: Charges were never filed. The person's identity remains a well-kept secret much like the story of the scar, which lies prominently below her left eye.

EMIL WILBEKIN, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, VIBE VENTURES: From what I vaguely understand about the scar on Mary's face is that it's something that happened when she was young. It is a very traumatic experience. It is something that she is either made a pact with herself or with someone else to never talk about.

Bilge: I don't talk about that.

WILBEKIN: And she's very serious about it.

O'BRIEN: Not surprisingly, Mary grew up fast in the thug- infested atmosphere.

BLIGE: It was all definitely all about survival. It would be like in the middle of the night, you hearing somebody screaming "Don't kill me" or "You're going to break my neck." Then you walk outside and the back of the building and you see some guy slapping his girlfriend so hard it looked like her neck's spinning around. It just -- it was hard-core like that. These are things we had to see.

O'BRIEN: But little Mary J. Blige had a God-given talent, a larger than life voice that stood out in the church choir. Soon, people began to take notice.

PETER SILEO, FORMER TEACHER: When I first met Mary she was a quiet little sixth grader. She was 11 years old, and she seemed kind of timid. One day another teacher asked me, "Have you ever heard Mary sing?" And I said, "No, I hadn't." So I decided that I would ask Mary if she would sing. The minute that her voice came out, my jaw dropped. And then I observed all the other children and they seemed to have the eyeballs glued on her and it was something as a teacher that you always try to get. Well, Mary received it from her peers the minute she started singing.

O'BRIEN: Music, however, couldn't mask her surrounding environment. Five years later, the future queen of hip-hop soul was a 16-year-old high school dropout.

BLIGE: Seeing so much negativity where I lived, it really damaged me as a teenager. At 16 years old, Mary was angry and didn't know why. Mary was promiscuous and didn't know why. I turned to getting high and drunk because it made me forget what was really going on.

O'BRIEN: But in 1988, at the age of 17, Mary J. Blige's life would take an unexpected turn. When she walked into a White Plains, New York, mall and a karaoke recording booth.

BLIGE: I was hanging out with some people and they were like, "You know, you should go in there and do it." I was like all right.

TOURE: She sang in the karaoke machine at the mall. The tape went to this one, to that one, to that one and then the cousin of somebody who is at Uptown. And suddenly, Uptown Records had the tape and was like, hey. There's this girl from Yonkers who can sing. Maybe we should check her out.

O'BRIEN: Coming up, from the ghetto to ghetto fabulous, the whirlwind transformation of Mary J. Blige.

TOURE: "Real Love" was like, whoa, what was that?

BLIGE: You know I actually had a song playing on the radio and we were still living in the projects.





WILBEKIN: We love Mary J. Blige because she is very much a mirror to most of our lives and I think that when you listen to her music and when you see her perform, a lot of -- we see ourselves within her life.

CALLOWAY: This lady I see on the big screen and in these hot videos, you know, I saw her concerts, you know, she has that many similarities with us? That's right. She came from what we came from.

O'BRIEN: By 1988, 17-year-old Mary J. Blige faced a bleak future. Living within the gritty confines of her Yonkers, New York housing project, the future queen of hip-hop soul was a drug using high school dropout. But Blige's life was about to change. In Manhattan, Uptown Records was listening intently to Mary's soulful demo. On it, her simple version of Anita Baker's "Caught Up in The Rapture," sentiments hardly shared by the teen when the CEO, Andre Harrell, came knocking on her door.

BLIGE: When all this is going on, I was thinking, like, I normally think, like, I don't care because my attitude back then was, whatever. This is not really going to happen. I don't really know what's going on. All I know is I'm singing for a bunch of people that say they're going to do something for me.

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