LOS ANGELES (AP) — Babyface called her an icon; Diddy said she was like a sister; and Anita Baker credited her for helping secure her latest Grammy nomination.
There was no shortage of superlatives bestowed on Mary J. Blige on Friday night as Vibe magazine celebrated the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s career, which has now spanned for more than two decades.
“She’s a musical soulmate, she’s my sister, she’s one of my best friends in the world,” said Diddy, who has worked with Blige since the beginning of her career. “Mary is our queen. … There is no one to come after her.”
Blige was feted during Vibe’s first Impact Awards, which coincided with the magazine’s 20th anniversary. The event included guests like MC Lyte, Jermaine Dupri and Queen Latifah. Blige appeared to wipe away tears at moments as she was lauded by one guest after another.
Babyface, who wrote one of Blige’s biggest hits, “Not Gon’ Cry,” recalled being a little intimidated by the idea of working with Blige, whom he saw as a tough New Yorker.
“Mary walked in and she was so sweet … and so respectful and totally melted me right there,” he said.
Diddy recalled how Blige worked with him after he got fired from one of his first high-profile jobs in the industry and when no else one would, and also said she was one of his best friends.
One of the more emotional tributes came from Baker, who was a childhood idol of Blige’s. Baker thanked Blige for seeking her out for collaborations and helping a new generation discover her music.
“That kind of generosity is non-existent in our business,” said Baker, who is nominated for a Grammy at Sunday’s awards. “This Grammy nomination that I have is in great part because you spoke my name into the 21st century.”
Latifah noted the personal transformation of Blige, who overcame substance abuse and other obstacles to become one of music’s leading role models.
“For me when I look back at you and the journey you’ve taken, I find you to be extremely inspirational and aspirational, especially to young women,” Latifah said.
When Blige got up to accept her honor, she thanked everyone for embracing her throughout her career, even during her very public missteps. She also thanked people for accepting her imperfections. She recounted a story about being sent to charm school early in her career by handlers who thought she needed to smooth over her rough edges. But Blige was not a good student.
“I just walked out and I never went back,” Blige said. “I’m glad I didn’t go back because I don’t think that I would have had an impact on anyone’s life had I lived someone else’s life.”
Blige recently starred as Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X, in the Lifetime movie “Betty & Coretta” co-starring Angela Bassett.
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