Mary J. Blige
With her tough New York upbringing offsetting a powerful, husky voice, Mary J. Blige conjures the pain of old-time jazz and blues singers with slick, modern R&B aesthetics and street smart hip hop cool, like few other soul divas. Signed by Uptown Records on the strength of a demo recorded at the local mall, Sean "Puffy" Combs (then an A&R man) oversaw her debut album What's The 411? (1992), which soon became a big hit reaching Number 7 in the US album charts and producing the Top 10 single Real Love. From there Blige went on to become one of America's biggest and most respected female stars, collaborating with artists as diverse as Bono, Jay-Z and Andrea Bocelli, notching up record sales of over 45 million and performing at President Obama's inauguration celebrations in 2009. Her albums Share My World (1997), Love & Life (2003), The Breakthrough (2005) and Growing Pains (2007) all topped the US album charts whilst Not Gon Cry, Be Without You and (the Dr Dre produced Number 1) Family Affair became her biggest hits to date.