Mary J Blige (MJB) released her album “Strength of a Woman” this past May. Like any good groupie, I got the album. To be honest, I only listened to it here and there. These are busy times. What I heard was decent. Generally, MJB tends to put out good albums. However, the other day I had a little down time and really listened to “Strength…” The album is actually pretty solid. It’s a reflective collection of music backed with heartfelt singing and killer production. It’s an amazing adult contemporary album for Black women in my age group (the Gen-Xers).
When it was announced that Mary was divorcing her husband of 12 years, folks said “uh, oh. Mary is going to be crying again on her next album.” Mary is known for singing about her relationships. As a die-hard fan of Mary of the 25+ years she’s been in the music industry, I’ve come to the realization Mary is just a sensitive person. She wears her heart on her sleeve. I find her willingness to be vulnerable a rarity. The truth is, love is some complicated mess. We all want it, whether we admit it or not. We want that deep love, that Love Jones love, that real love. I think Mary wants it more than anyone and it makes sense knowing her history. She has talked about being molested as a child, an on and off again relationship with her father, drug addiction, and relationship with guys who just didn’t know what to do with a girl/woman like Mary J Blige.
I remember in an interview, Mary talked about when she was a kid, other kids would fight to see who could sit by her or be her friend. She also recalled a time a teacher asked her to sing to help settle down the class, and it worked. There is something about Mary. I think because she’s an old/tender soul, that she has had to camouflage with street swag. The survival story of most Black women.
In the early years, a young Mary covered her eyes/was hiding. By mid-career (No More Drama, The Breakthrough) she was growing more confident. Now, with her 13th album, she is boldly proclaiming “f*ck it, I’m Mary J Blige!” by sitting on her throne.
Listening to the new album, yes Mary J is brokenhearted again. But unlike the other times she’s shared about failed love/the rhetoric of loving one’s self…she seems to have had a true epiphany of “oh well, shit happens. but i’m gonna be alright.” The thing I love about Mary, is that she is constantly evolving. Mary has maintained she is a work in progress. Even when she got married and thought she found the love of her life, she warned folks that there is never really any happy endings. You always have to put in the work to be a better person.
While Mary has made some faux pas over the years (still cringing over that Burger King commercial and singing for Clinton), overall she’s been an inspiring person. She has been an iconic image for Black women like me who grew up in the 70’s/80’s. The 40-something Black women who know a little bit more about life than we did in our 20’s, but still learning and growing. Rock on MJB.
My current favorite song from “Strength…”
The passing of Afeni Shakur is jarring as her son’s song “Dear Mama” is often used as a shout out to black mamas on Mother’s Day…which is this Sunday.
As many folks have pointed out, it’s important to remember that Shakur was more than just Tupac’s mom. She was a leader in her own right. “Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams; January 10, 1947 – May 2, 2016) was an American music businesswoman, philanthropist, political activist and Black Panther.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afeni_Shakur. Also, some folks may not be aware that Tupac’s godmother is Assata Shakur. Imagine growing up with these two brilliant women.
Rest up Ms. Shakur.
A week later, I’m still staring off into space trying to process Prince’s death. As a proud Gen-Xer, Prince’s music was an integral part of my childhood. The iconic singer’s album “Purple Rain” came out in 1984, right as I was preparing for middle school. Even as a kid, I recognized the magnetism of his music, if I didn’t understand it completely (or catch onto all the sexy double entendres that Prince was notorious for).
Since his passing, there have been numerous articles/tributes honoring the singer. One article that stood out to me looked at Prince’s relationship with women entertainers. Prince seemed to have a genuine respect and admiration for talented women. This is not to say he was perfect. He did tend to engage in colorism in the women he choose to promote and was said not to be the greatest guy to be in a professional (or intimate) relationship with, but overall he did go out of his way to highlight exceptional women.
One person he is credited with giving shine to is Misty Copeland, the first black woman ballerina to be a principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater in over 75 years.
How Prince Gave Ballet Star Misty Copeland Her Big Break http://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/the-wrap/article/How-Prince-Gave-Ballet-Star-Misty-Copeland-Her-7294782.php
The popularity of Copeland has created an increased interest in black female ballerinas. Copeland’s journey has been particularly inspiring to little black girls who rarely see themselves reflected in the world of ballet. The organization Brown Girls Do Ballet goal is to provide space for black girl ballerinas and other girls of color.
“Brown Girls Do Ballet® is a start-up organization dedicated to promoting diversity in ballet programs through various media platforms, training resources, and an exclusive network in the world of ballet. The mission of Brown Girls Do Ballet® is to help increase participation of underrepresented minority populations in ballet programs through organizing and arranging ballet performances and providing resources and scholarships to assist young girls in their ballet development and training.” http://www.browngirlsdoballet.com/
If you scroll the website, the images of all the brown girls in their poses/outfits is beautiful and touching. Almost makes me wish I was a little girl again. Never mind the fact that I have two left feet 🙂
See Prince what you started…Rest in Peace.
Last year, black folks were concerned when it was announced Zoe Saldana was cast as the iconic, Nina Simone. Folks worst fears were confirmed when the trailer for “Nina” was released this past weekend.
A lot of the criticism has focused on Saldana basically engaging in black face to portray the high priestess of soul. It’s considered offensive because Simone’s music was dedicated to speaking out against the marginalization of black folks, specifically darker skinned black folks. The (hideous) makeup job makes a mockery of her life’s work.
My other issue with the trailer is the story line of an “out of control” Simone. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the mental health struggles of Simone. Honestly, I did not know this was something that affected her life, until recently. It’s not talked about when folks praise the legendary singer. I think mental health needs to be discussed more in the black community. Two groups I follow do an excellent job supporting black folks and mental health (No More Martyrs and Black Mental Health Alliance for Education & Consultation, Inc.) Artist Erykah Badu recently highlighted bi-polar/depression at a fashion show. So, folks are working hard to bring more awareness to this important issue.
However, I find it interesting the writer-director decided to focus solely on this aspect of Simone’s life. It was not surprising to learn that the writer-director is a white woman (Cynthia Mort). It makes sense why she used black face to represent Simone. White women tend not to relate to the beauty struggles black women, particularly darker skinned black women, face under white supremacy. It makes sense why Mort zeroed in on the “breakdown” of Simone. She could not see the brilliance of Simone without framing it in a stereotypical “crazy” black woman caricature. Simone was regarded as a child progeny. She had to deal with harsh racism while growing up. Imagine the pain navigating oppression when you are a gifted black child. I’m sure Simone’s mental health problems were exacerbated dealing with the daily abuse of white racism. But a film like that probably wouldn’t get the green light.
As far as Saldana, she should know better. Simone’s daughter has defended her in this role. I’m sure some of it is genuine support, but Simone’s daughter also has not found closure with her mother. She has talked about Simone being an abusive/neglectful parent. It’s probably hard for her to look at the bigger picture of why Saldana was not a good fit for this role. Celebrities like Queen Latifah and Paula Patton have stood up for Salanda, but they are doing so in case they ever want to look ridiculous on film. You know celebrity egos.
The problem is Saldana tends to flip flop on the subject of racism (colorblind rhetoric). And yes, she’s tends to say she is a “black Latina,” but often celebrates her Latina side/declare she is more than “just black.”This is not someone who needed to represent Nina Simone, a consistently proud black woman.
“but now you’re like the rest, unworthy of my best. hasta la vista, baby.” 🙂
Since black folks have been brought to this oppressive country, black women/girls have tried to find ways to create self-affirming spaces for themselves. The fascinating thing with a lot of white folks is they are never happy with what black folks do. When we try to be part of their groups/neighborhoods they go out of their way to be racist/make it uncomfortable for us. When we say “screw it” and do our own thing they get mad and start hollering “reverse racism.” This has been the case with the current controversy over #blackgirlmagic.
I don’t engage too much in the #blackgirlmagic hash tagging. I tend to see it as a positive movement for mostly younger black feminists. Hell, good for them for taking back their image/voice from a society that only wants to represent them in stereotypical ways.
There has been criticism that “black girl magic” borders the strong black woman trope. I can understand this to a certain extent as #blackgirlmagic celebrates highly accomplished black women/girls. This could possibly be overwhelming to those who feel it’s one more thing they have to live up to. However, I really don’t think that’s the intent. I think “black girl magic” has just been a fun way for younger black feminists to show love to black women/girls they think are fly. I see nothing wrong with that.
Recently, I asked a young woman to tell me what the quan was. She broke out in a full dance routine. What in the world. What happened to the good old roger rabbit. You know you are getting older when…
The truth is, like most Gen-X folks, I’m stuck in the 80’s/90’s musically. There are some contemporary folks I like (Janelle Monáe, FKA Twigs, Fantasia, etc.), but overall most music today is cringe worthy. And what’s with all the culture vulture /blackface antics going on with white singers today. They are annoying, but I digress.
It’s been nice to see some of the old school women comeback. One of those trendsetters, Missy Elliot, will be honored at Billboard’s Women in Music. Elliot helped revolutionize music in the 90’s and doesn’t seem to be quitting anytime soon. Good for her. We need to stop the youth obsession happening in music today. Back in the day it was not uncommon for folks to start their singing careers in their 30’s. The awards show will air this Friday on Lifetime.