Harrell, who died last year, discovered Blige in Yonkers, New York: “He told me I was going to make it,” the singer reflects.
Academy Award nominee Mary J. Blige revisits her landmark album, 1994’s deeply personal My Life, in a new Amazon Prime Video documentary out June 25. But no examination of her career would be complete without Andre Harrell, the Uptown Records founder who discovered Blige and signed her straight out of the Schlobohm housing projects in Yonkers, New York.
Harrell, who passed away on May 7, 2020, is featured in the doc via interviews recorded prior to his death, and Blige tells The Hollywood Reporter that she still “doesn’t have enough words” to describe his influence on her life.
Andre is really my father in this music industry. If he hadn’t come down that day to those projects to my apartment, I wouldn’t be here right now. There was so much talent, and he came to hear me — that will mean something to me for the rest of my life. He showed us that there was hope. He told me I was going to make it.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up briefly with Blige over Zoom to discuss Harrell, how her success in Hollywood has impacted her career and how it felt to revisit so much pain and trauma for the My Life documentary.
Why did you decide to narrow the documentary’s focus on the My Life album and that time in your life?
Because this album is the most important album in my life. It was such a pivotal point in my life when I knew I didn’t want to live, and I didn’t know how my life was going to turn out. In expressing myself and writing down my feelings and singing it and putting it into this album, and then all the fans, 4 million people responded and said, “Me too.” It started a movement. I had a fan base on [her 1992 debut album] What’s the 411?, but this created something way more powerful than just a fan base.
Two years ago, when I was on tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of My Life, Time magazine named it one of the 100 most important albums and Billboard gave it [a similar distinction]. So, I said, “This is the time to do it because everybody’s celebrating it. Now is the time.”
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