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Mary J. Blige closes the 2011 Essence Music Festival

July 3, 2011
EMF Headliner Mary J. Blige and music exec Don Pooh hangout backstage at the 2011 ESSENCE Music Festival in New Orleans.


Mary J. Blige is no stranger to the Essence Music Festival and this year marks her 10th time as a performer, but her first as the event's closing night showstopper.


In an interview before Sunday's evening concert inside the Louisiana Superdome, Blige told The Associated Press that she planned to put on a signature, high-energy show giving fans a taste of her classic hits while also showing them some of what's in store from her new project, "My Life II ... The Journey Continues," which will be released Oct. 14.


"On the first 'My Life' album, I just wanted to die," she said matter-of-factly. "I was pulled out of a really dark, close to suicidal situation, but on this one it's different. I want to live and let people know how to get through the challenges they face in life. This album reflects a celebration of life."


Blige, 40, said she hoped to "show everyone a good time."


"I plan to give everyone a chance to hear their favorite songs and help uplift the spirit and feel good about their life," she said. "I definitely plan to keep you dancing, and keep you moving."


Asked if any surprises were in store, she laughed and said, "You'll just have to come and see for yourself. I can't tell you everything."


While in New Orleans, Blige's Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now received a $40,000 donation from McDonald's — one of the festival's major sponsors — and she was among five notables honored at the corporation's annual 365Black Awards distributed since 2003 during the festival.


Blige was recognized for her efforts through FFAWN, which she founded with entertainment mogul Steve Stoute, to offer scholarships and programs aimed at fostering self-esteem and career development for at-risk women.


"This is a big deal for me because it honors my philanthropy," Blige said. "I'm a baby on the philanthropic level but my career has always been about giving back. And this is exactly what I've always wanted to do. Since I was a child, I've always wanted to help us to be better and although I can't help everyone, I can get to some. FFAWN helps give women a second chance."


Also honored during the ceremony were legendary actress Ruby Dee, Radio One/TV One founder Cathy Hughes, Ben Jealous, president and chief executive of the NAACP and Henry "Hank" Thomas, one of the 13 original Freedom Riders who traveled throughout the South on Greyhound buses in 1961, protesting segregated facilities at bus stations and who also owns and operates three McDonald's restaurants in the Atlanta area.


Meanwhile, Blige said she's been focused on the new record and confirmed that she is set to portray legendary jazz singer Nina Simone in a biopic scheduled to begin filming this fall. She said she's been studying really hard to be a good actress and hopes that shines through.


The script is reportedly based on Simone's autobiography "I Put a Spell on You," and focuses on Simone's relationship with her assistant, Clifton Henderson, played by actor David Oyelowo


Blige is also set to star in a comedy, "Rock of Ages," with Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise.

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