Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige and Beyoncé Knowles are members of an elite sorority: Black women who fill stadiums and go platinum. Their songs tell us to get in control, release the drama, and become independent women. In an era when Black artists seem to own the music, they are the baddest of the bad. Imagine the electricity in the room when we got them together for this historic photo shoot. The chemistry was obvious. Janet, Mary and Beyoncé shared their love for one another as they claimed the moment. That moment was ours as well.
“Come on, get up,” Janet commands and everybody stands, sways, dances. Those old enough can remember her rise from plump, pretty girlhood to chiseled, body-beautiful pop goddess with the universe for her stage. Those who are younger took the journey to self-discovery with her. Even today, her triumphs and heartbreaks are still our calendar. If the Super Bowl incident is recorded in our minds, so, too, will be her transcendence of it. Janet basks in her spotlight—glows in it, makes love to it. The power of her artistry keeps us watching and waiting for more of her groundbreaking, risk-taking truth.
Janet on performing and contributing: “At times, performing can be a grind, going from the bus to the hotel, living out of a suitcase. But then it changes. The actual setting up onstage and then getting in front of that audience—it changes at that moment for me. And that has a great deal to do with the audience, the fans. You feel that love and energy, and you want to give something back. I hope I made it easier for the ones coming up. I hope I contributed and made some difference and inspired and held the door open so the newcomers could run through.”
Mary is who Billie Holiday might have become if she had saved herself. There’s a jazzy cadence in her songs, the slight hint of scatting when her notes soar. “No one in this world can make me self-destruct,” she croons. Believe her. Mary’s power is in her words, both spoken and sung. The light of her truth is legendary, as much a part of her as her music. Queen of the Real. But her real is changing, reaching for higher ground. And she wants us all to come to that place of peace she’s moving toward. Follow. She will lead us.
Mary on being with Janet and Beyoncé: “I rarely get to be around women in the music business who are as beautiful as they are but who are not full of themselves. I’m not talking only about physical beauty. I’m talking about their hearts, their perseverance, their personalities, their drive to be successful. These women are confident and humble. Confidence and humility—that’s what’s kept us all working in the music business for a very long time.”
Her voice soars with gospel-girl trills, a high-wailing vibrato that won’t let us loose. Her beauty and smile light up a room, a stage, a screen. She is a woman of contrasts:a down-home sista and a savvy crowd-pleaser; a mama’s and a daddy’s girl and a loving big sister; an independent woman and dangerously in love; a solo act and a team player. Her journey has just begun; her train is bound for evolution.
Beyoncé on visiting South Africa: “I visited South Africa this past November for the Nelson Mandela Foundation AIDS benefit, and I was very affected by the trip. We went to some of the hospitals in the townships, and we saw young kids with AIDS. It was just devastating. It was life-changing. I want to take every celebrity I know to Africa. We have so much power over there to raise more money and to really make a difference.”