@MaryJBlige gets Help with new album

September 29, 2011
Mary J. Blige wrote "The Living Proof" for the hit film The Help, and that song's message has a lot in common with the soul singer's upcoming album, My Life Part II: The Journey Continues.
If you ask multiple Grammy winner Mary J. Blige about the inspiration for her songs, you get a two-word reply: "my life!"

But we shouldn't be surprised. After all, the evidence was there, back in 1994, with the release of her second album, My Life.

She promises it will be there again when she delivers a sequel on Nov. 21.

"I have a new album I've been working on. It's called My Life Part II: The Journey Continues. I'm not trying to top or beat the first one, I'm just trying to say that my life goes on. My journey has just begun."

Silver-haired and striking, Blige is a confident 40 now. Her dexterity in blending hip hop and soul, and in pioneering contemporary rhythm and blues led Rolling Stone magazine to name her one of the 100 greatest singers of all time. Yet, it's clear she feels lucky to be around and chatting with reporters today about a career that continues to move from strength to strength. After all, there was a time, not so long ago, when alcohol and drugs were endangering, not just that career, but her life. "I was the walking dead," she commented in a revealing VH1 interview in July.

When she was asked to contribute a song to the hit film, The Help, about the black women who served as housekeepers and nannies to the white households of Mississippi in the segregated 1960s, she did two things. She sat down and watched the movie. And, as always, she reached into her own past.

"I saw the movie. I cried so hard and I laughed so hard. There was all sorts of stuff I was going through, and then I got encouraged and inspired by the end of the movie. And while I was sitting watching the film, each emotion that I had, I would type down on my BlackBerry.

"Then I requested to see it again, and the same thing happened again. I just kept typing down more, and, by the time I got to the studio, the song was almost written."

The resulting song, "The Living Proof," was partly inspired by the film and partly by childhood memories of her Aunt Laura Belle, who spent most of her life working for a wealthy white family in Georgia. But Blige also drew on her own experience.

"If something pops into my head that's real and draws some kind of emotion, I can write a song from it," she says simply. With "The Living Proof," she wanted to communicate what it means to be a survivor.

"I'm a survivor from a lot of things. Being a 'living proof' means living to tell someone what not to do -- or how to do it, or how to speak from your heart, your experience. It's your proof that you can survive these things."

The very titles of her albums reflect the influences of her own life story: Share My World, Love and Drama, Growing Pains, Stronger with Each Tear.

One lesson she has learned is to forgive her enemies -- a message she also thinks underlies The Help.

"That's the only way we can be free," says Blige, who was sexually abused as a child. "Forgive your abusers, forgive racism. It's the only way we're going to be free and successful in life. That's basically it. You're going to end up in prison or dead if you do anything else."

But she also draws on her own spiritual beliefs.

"Without God, there is no forgiveness, there is no softening of the heart. ... My thing is prayer. That's what's got me as far as I've come."

She has a message for aspiring young artists.

"Believe in yourself. Keep God first. Stay strong."

At the same time, she is able to step back and assess her own artistic progress.

"I know my voice has gotten stronger, and I'm more confident with what I can do, so that makes it better. I'm probably more honest with what I cannot do. I can't do what another, younger generation does. I can do what I do -- but at the same time, I can't ignore them. I have to let that generation know that I hear them, so I can exist, as well.

"My sound has a lot of soul, and it's not going to change from the soul. I don't think I can do anything else."

Once her latest album is ready, she'll be starting work on the film version of the Broadway stage hit, Rock of Ages.

"It has a lot of good songs from the '80s and an all-star cast: Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand -- and me!"

After that come two highly personal projects: a book on her life, which will also be the basis for a Broadway musical.

"This will take a lot of going around to my family members and friends and asking them (if they are) cool with what I'm going to say. I don't want to hurt people. People have been hurt enough."

My Life Part II: The Journey Continues is out Nov. 21.


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