Before she was playing a ruthless queen pen obsessed with Power, Mary J. Blige was ruling the ESSENCE festival stage. The legendary hip-hop soul singer who turns 50 today has commanded sold out crowds year after year with her gripping voice and down to earth lyrics.
Blige has used her signature boots to stomp into Superdome history during solo dance moments and heartfelt duets. She’s also used her performances to minister to the people in the crowd by sharing how she overcame her personal struggles and found a way to tune out feedback that didn’t serve her.
During a 2010 performance of “No More Drama,” she encouraged concertgoers to ignore haters who might question their choice to turn to God in a crisis. “People constantly push you down when you try to get up, you try to get up, you try to do right and they ask you why you praying,” she said to a sea of cheering fans. “All that right there is drama and we will have no more,” she exclaimed before breaking out into the title track from her Grammy-nominated album.
The stage isn’t the only place Blige served up advice during the annual event. She has appeared on several panels about sisterhood and strength where she’s spoken about the need for self reflection, having faith in a higher power and the importance of being a woman of your word.
“I’ve messed up in front of the whole world daily, making bad decisions, mistakes here and there but this is the way we teach the youth you know? We come out on the other side and we come out strong,” she said.
“As artists we’re not given these platforms, we’re not given these platforms just to just be speaking about how much money we have, and how much bling we got, and how much this, that, and the third. It’s to help someone.”
When we look back at ESSENCE’s cover queen’s festival appearances, these seven top our list as the most memorable.
2010: Sporting her signature over-the-knee boots and blonde bob, Blige encouraged concert-goers to look past others’ criticisms during a 2010 performance of “No More Drama.” That same year the star hit an unforgettable body roll in a sparkling silver suit while performing “Feel Like A Woman.”
2011: We could almost smell the leather burning in the Arizona sun when she led us in a sing-along of “Not Gon’ Cry” in 2011. Mary belted out the classic fromThe Waiting To Exhale soundtrack with all of the passion of Bernie, Savannah, Robin, and Gloria combined.
2014: Blige reminded fans that her struggles were no different from theirs before taking them back to her “My Life,” album.
2015: Mary J. Blige and Method Man served big project roof energy performing “You’re All I Need To Get By” bathed in purple light this year.
2017: Blige admitted that she still gets nervous before shows and meetings as an industry veteran during the 2017 “Strength Of A Woman” panel. She shared she’s able to remain confident by recalling other times she was nervous and succeeded.
2018: Blige shared how seriously she takes the influence she has as an artist during the “Sister Love” panel in 2018. “We can say a lot of things but it’s not only about what we say it’s about what we do, how we move, our actions,” she said.
Watch the memorable ESSENCE festival moments below.