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With a voice that harkens back to the classic soul sounds of the ’60s and ’70s, Mary J. Blige brought music from a bygone era firmly into the present to become a new icon of hip-hop music. Blige will be performing on Sept. 8 at Grand Sierra Resort.

Among her many albums are two that are linked together: her second album, “My Life” was released in 1994 and was a huge success, launching her into the mainstream. Then there was “My Life II,” released in 2011 and also a top 5 smash on the mainstream album charts.

On her official website, Blige said she realized how much stronger she was as a person when working on the 2011 album.

“What has made me strong is not just the joy and great things happening in my life, but the trials and difficulties that cause you to want to move out of that uncomfortable place to get to the next stage,” she said. “With the first ‘My Life’ album, I didn’t have that understanding. I just did not know why I was suffering so bad, why I was hurting.”

Standing apart

Blige’s emotionally charged lyrics and vocals are what made her stand out from the rest of the R&B field when she began. At age 18 in 1989, she was the youngest act and the only woman signed to the Uptown Records label. Her first album, “What’s the 411?” was released in 1992. Produced by Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, the record had a top 10 hit with “Real Love” and eventually sold three million copies.

“My Life” in 1994 also sold three million copies and started a still-unbroken streak for Blige where every one of her albums has made the top 10. She also had three No. 1 albums in a row: “Love and Life” in 2003, “The Breakthrough” in 2005 and “Growing Pains” in 2007.

Her biggest hit singles include “Not Gon’ Cry,” a top 2 hit in 1996; “Family Affair,” her only pop No. 1 so far and released in 2001, and “Be Without You,” which made it to No. 3 in 2005. She was also featured in two smash rap/hip-hop duet songs, “I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need to Get By” with Method Man in 1995 (it reached No. 3) and “Runaway Love” with Ludacris in 2006 (it reached No. 2).

Blige has also won nine Grammy awards. They include Best Rap Performance by a Duo for her hit with Method Man in 1996; Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “He Think I Don’t Know” in 2003; Best Pop Collaboration for her song with rock singer Sting, “Whenever I Say Your Name,” in 2004; and two awards for “Be Without You,” Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Performance, in 2007.

She also won Best R&B Album in 2007 for “The Breakthrough,” while her other three awards were in 2008: Best R&B Performance by a Duo for her work with Chaka Khan on “Disrespectful;” Best Gospel Performance for her duet with Aretha Franklin, “Never Gonna Break My Faith;” and Best Contemporary R&B Album for “Growing Pains.” 

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