Queen of Hip Hop Soul Mary J. Blige celebrated the 25th anniversary of her “My Life” album at Wolf Trap on Sept. 3, thrilling fans with a dramatic, high-energy, 75-minute show.
At 48, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and actress, was in top form as she strutted about the stage in stunning thigh-high boots, sunglasses and a variety of hot pants outfits. Singing some of her biggest hits, the superstar was backed by a superb band, three female backup singers and four high-stepping dancers. Blige delighted her fans as she impressively matched the dancer’s moves, never seeming to tire, as fireworks and other spectacular stage effects illuminated the summer night.
In June, Blige received the Lifetime Achievement Award from BET, which paid tribute to the over 80 million albums she has sold over the years. The Bronx-born artist began her career in 1989 when Uptown Records signed her as their youngest singer and first female on the label.
Initially, Blige was known for her tough girl persona and streetwise lyrics that combined classic soul with urban contemporary R&B and edgy rap. Fans connected to her music which revealed a painful childhood and her struggles with depression and drugs. Gradually, her image softened, and she balanced soulful ballads with infectious dance tunes, redefining soul music and influencing a generation of new artists.
Recently, she sang with such superstars as opera’s Andrea Bocelli, with their performance of the gospel song, “Mary Did You Know?,” garnering rave reviews on Oprah’s 2009 Christmas special. She has ventured into acting, earning an Academy Award nomination for best-supporting actress for the 2017 movie “Mudbound” about racism in 1940s Mississippi.
Over the years, Blige has become a voice for the joys, fears and frustrations of black women, earning a reputation for being defiant, strong and determined. Many of her songs encourage women to love and empower themselves, with songs like “No More Drama” and “Be Happy” as perfect examples.
When Blige sang the two songs at Wolf Trap, the women in in the crowd joined in, embracing each word like a sacred mantra. Blige recently divorced her husband and long-time manager Kendu Issacs after a bitter and tumultuous contest, and when she sang, “I Prefer Me to the Drama,” her words brought thunderous claps and whistles.
Blige has a loyal fan base, and onstage she acknowledged how that base has supported her over the years. “You stood by me and I appreciate it,” said the singer who has used her gifts to uplift spirits and to touch lives through her philanthropy.
Blige performed a string of other hits, including “You Bring Me Joy,” “You Gotta Believe,” “Be With You” and “Share My World.” A costume change was an opportunity for Blige’s back-up singers to share off their individual talents before Blige returned to perform, “I’m Going Down.”
The iconic singer held her microphone out to audience members who gleefully sang along. When she acknowledged those on the lawn, there was a roar of approval, and the song’s lyrics wafted through the air.
As the long line of cars left the nation’s only national park dedicated to presenting the performing arts, the singer’s music could be heard booming from the departing cars. The Queen of Hip Hop Soul had reigned, and those in attendance wanted to keep savoring the moment.