The interview between Mary J. Blige and acclaimed writer Kevin Sessums has been such a hit that LAC is releasing an exclusive web extra. Below, Blige and Sessums discuss healing, spirituality, her many tattoos, and much more.
KEVIN SESSUMS: I was amazed how incredibly still you were during that photo shoot with all that chaos going on around you. Is that part of being a diva or does it go deeper? Was that a kind of coping mechanism that you developed in your childhood?
MARY J. BLIGE: I learned it as I grew. It’s all about patience. Everyone has a job to do. Everyone is living around you so it’s not all about you. So this is why I didn’t know who you were, for example, and I walked by you and said, “Excuse me.” That’s just the way I live. I live my life trying to respect myself and other people.
KS: You’re sounding rather maternal talking about the need for patience. You’ve never had children of your own.
MJB: I have step-children. I have three of them, two girls and one boy.
KS: You and your husband are professed Christians. Do you look at your career as a kind of ministry?
MJB: I have a following. I try my best to do the right thing. I mean, I can’t stop the press from being who they are and I can’t stop things from happening. I can’t stop tragedies. But I can walk the walk in my heart. I can be who I am telling you I am because I am that. I won’t lie to people. I try not to say something I’m not doing. I don’t want to talk about alcohol in a song. A long time ago we were recording “Family Affair”—this was before I got sober. I was on the road to recovery. No—wait. That’s not true. I was already recovering. In that song there was the word “drunk.” Right before the song was mixed, I remember sitting on the bed and I was praying with my husband. I was like “We got to take that word out of there.” Too many people were being set free because of me and my story. And now I’m going to lead them back astray?
KS: You said “on the road to recovery.” Do you consider yourself healed now?
MJB: Yeah, I believe that I’m healed.
KS: For what it’s worth, I think recovery is all about the process of healing. But none of us are ever fully healed until we die. That’s what heaven is to me. It’s not a place. It’s a moment. The moment when we experience complete healing.
MJB: That’s a great way of looking at it. Thank you.
KS: Did your marriage help in your recovery?
MJB: My husband came into my life as a man of God—that’s what made me want to be a woman of God. Not that I wasn’t a child of God when I was… well… a child. I went to church a lot.
KS: You went to a Pentecostal church. Didn’t you grow up singing in church?
MJB: Yes, I did.
KS: Your career and your music are filled with collaborations. Instead of being the diva-from-on-high you got down in the trenches and shared the glory. You worked with so many other artists.
MLB: That’s just the way it started out. So many people wanted to work with me. I didn’t even know them. Puffy [Sean Combs] was my mentor. He was like my family. He’d come to me and say, “Method Man wants to work with you. This person wants to, that person wants to.” I didn’t even know how important I was. It wasn’t until about 2005 that I got it. I still get calls today about people wanting to work with Mary. It has made me understand that I’m supposed to share this thing. But I don’t just work with anybody.
KS: Do you want to talk about any racism you’ve ever experienced in the music business? At the beginning of your career—it was guided by both Sean Combs and Andre Harrell—you did seem to be cosseted in a Caucasian-free zone. Or is such a zone even possible where any sort of power is concerned?
MJB: How all of this really came about for me is that Elton John was on VH1 during the Mary album. He was talking about how great I was. What people don’t know is that I grew up listening to soft rock. I could have gone on Name That Tune at five years old and named all those tunes. Elton John was one of those people I used to listen to, so I reached out to him. I wanted to do “Deep Inside” and we wanted to use “Bennie and the Jets” on that. So we did that together. Then he started calling me to sing with him. We became friends. Have I had trouble with my friends? Elton is my friend. George Michael became my friend. Sting became my friend. The Rolling Stones are my friends. They’re good people. Now, have I had to deal with racism in the United States in the record business? Absolutely. And I still do—right now, today. What I have always had to suffer through is I’m not light enough. I’m not dark enough. And I’m not naked enough.
KS: Has anyone ever told you to stop getting tattoos?
MJB: No, no one stops me. I just did what I did. One day someone did say, “You have to go do such-and-such. You may have to cover your tattoos on the red carpet.” It was something real prestigious. I can’t even remember what it was now. Sometimes I do feel like I regret getting them.
KS: As we sit here and talk today [October 2012], Rihanna has the number one album in the country. When you read about all her drama do you feel as if you should reach out to her and protect her—even from herself at times—and be a mentor to her and others like her coming up in the business?
MLB: If they ask me for help, I’ll be there to give. But I’m not going to be out there trying to reach out. I mean, some people I’ll reach out to. I’ll reach out to Rihanna because I know Rihanna. If I feel like she’s in trouble, I’ll be there reaching out. I don’t want to not reach out to her like we didn’t get to Whitney in time.
KS: When you are on American Idol and this season on The Voice as a mentor for Adam Levine’s team, do you think you are giving those shows edge? Or are they co-opting you and taking away your edge?
MJB: Wow. I never thought of it in that way. Adam asked me to do that. Do you know Adam?
KS: No. But I wish I did. I have such a crush on him. Want to introduce us?
MJB: He asked me to do The Voice. And I love Adam. He’s so lovely—you’re right about that. But I don’t think those shows can take anything away from me. I think I can add to them.
KS: Amen to that. Amen.