A celebration fit for a queen!
Black creatives have united to honor iconic songstress, Mary J. Blige, curating an online celebration for her 50th birthday.
“To Mary, With Love” is a virtual celebration in honor of Ms. Mary Jane Blige’s 50th birthday. Four Black women creatives spearheaded the multimedia project; Dr. Yaba Blay, founder of Professional Black Girl, hip-hop archivist Syreeta Gates, author and organizer Tarana J. Burke, and writer and editor Karen Good Marable. The project brings together an amalgamation of folks, from celebrities to writers and creatives, all with one common goal, giving Blige her roses while she can smell them. Dr. Blay said the inspiration first came to her about a year ago, out of sheer desire to show the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul just how much she is loved.
“Mary is the inspiration. As SUPER Mary fans (dare we say stans), we knew we wanted to somehow say ‘Happy Birthday’ bigger than just a social media post or tribute post. I have been thinking about this for a while, at least a year. Thinking about how Professional Black Girl, the brand, and the community, could pay homage to our Patron Saint…And then life happened. And then COVID-19 happened. And then, quite honestly, I was trying to lowkey quiet the bright idea because I didn’t think I had the time or capacity to make it happen. But leave it to my girls to make it very clear that NOT celebrating Mary was NOT an option. And here we are,” Dr. Blay told Because Of Them We Can.
Dr. Blay’s Professional Black Girl, “a digital community celebrating the everyday round-the-way culture of Black women and girls,” and Gates’ The Gates Preserve Archive, “a rigorous, exhaustive hip-hop treasury,” then partnered with Burke and Good Marable. The four came together to figure out just what the honor could look like, imagining everything from a coffee table book to a magazine, before settling on a virtual celebration, which felt much more manageable and allowed them to include more people in honor of Blige.
“Our community has been on lockdown for almost a year, but joy-in particular Black joy-is as essential as air. What better way to spread joy than to gather together (virtually) and celebrate the 50th birthday of the woman we call Queen? Planning this birthday party for Mary almost felt like a spell, our rebuke to these particularly trying times,” said Good Marable.
The resulting project is a website like none other, featuring voicemails, love letters, articles, a boot archive, videos, and a special gift from the curators. Included in these voicemails to Blige are dear friends and family like Angela Bassett, Aunjanue Ellis, Bozoma Saint John, Common, Kirk Franklin, Gabrielle Union, Blige’s sister LaTonya Blige-DaCosta, Missy Elliott, Nia Long, and more.
It includes love letters from Kindred The Family Soul’s Aja Grayson, writer Jamilah Lemieux, educator and activist Nadia Lopez, entertainment and media consultant Veracity Savant, author Darnell Moore, cultural writer and founder of #BlkCreatives, Melissa Kimble, and VP and chief curator at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Nwaka Onwusa. Activist and author Sonya Renee Taylor, cultural critic Gerrick Kennedy, Gates, and Good Marable also penned articles in honor of Blige. There are featured videos with the curators and one with longtime friend and style icon Misa Hylton.
“Our intention is to give this phenomenal woman her flowers; this woman who has given over so much of herself through song for the past three decades,” Gates said.
In addition to the site, there will be a virtual online celebration, Monday, January 11th via IG and Twitter. The group has already started a petition via Change.org to commission the “Official Mary J. Blige Boot line.”
“Mary’s legacy is our legacy. She is an icon in her own right as an entertainer, but so many of us can track our lives along the timeline of Mary’s albums. We can literally track our progression along with Mary’s progression because she helped so many of us in that progress! Her legacy and a generation of Black women’s legacies are intertwined, and that means everything to me. She put words to our pain, but she also sang us right into our joy and in many ways protecting, celebrating, and uplifting the legacy of Mary J. Blige – A Queen, a Leader, a Living Legend – is doing the same for ourselves,” Burke said.
Check out “To Mary, With Love” here and follow the hashtag #ToMaryWithLove on social media.
Happy Birthday, Mary J. Blige! Because of you, we can!
Photo Courtesy of The Gates Preserve