In an industry in which the diva is often a flavor-of-the-week flash in the pan, the ever-evolving Mary J. Blige has enjoyed nearly a decade of critical and popular acclaim, thanks largely to her unwillingness to rest on her musical laurels.
Ms. Blige, who performs Thursday in Augusta as the headliner in the Seagram's Gin The Mary Show, has tipped her toes into the waters of soul, hip-hop and rhythm and blues, creating an eclectic catalog of music that explores the width and breadth of popular music while always showcasing her prodigious vocal and songwriting talents.
"I see my music as always going forward," Ms. Blige said. "I think it's something that will continue to evolve."
Her first album - 1992's What's the 411? - featured a mix of hip-hop and soul stylings that introduced an influential mesh of old and new urban music sounds. She followed with 1994's My Life, which drew heavily from the groove-oriented sounds of early '70s rhythm and blues.
Having established herself as a force in modern music, Ms. Blige's next two albums, Share My World and Mary, featured collaborations with producers and performers including Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Babyface, Lauryn Hill, Eric Clapton, Elton John and the original soul diva, Aretha Franklin.
"There are still a couple people left I'd like to work with, but I won't tell you who," Ms. Blige said in a telephone interview. "All the ones I've done so far have been great. I really loved working with Aretha and Elton because those are the people I listened to growing up."
Ms. Blige wrote 90 percent of the material on Mary. Still, she says she loves her chosen profession because she has the opportunity to perform in front of audiences.
"It's verification," she said. "That's when you know it's real. In the studio when something goes wrong you can do it over; on stage you have to keep going."
Reflecting on the cyclical nature of the music industry and its tendency to recycle and discard trends, Ms. Blige said that she wants to be able to continue to perform her music on her own terms.
"I would like to see the music keep moving forward," she said. "I want to be one of those people who stay, people like Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan. That's the kind of career I want to have."
A portion of the ticket sales from the tour will be donated to One Hundred Black Men, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting economic, technological and educational initiatives across the country, with some funds going to programs in Ms. Blige's hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.
Opening for Ms. Blige on The Mary Show tour is Jagged Edge, an Atlanta vocal quartet whose debut album, A Jagged Era, has been certified gold. Also appearing will be Carl Thomas, a soul singer signed to Sean "Puffy" Combs' Bad Boy records label.
What: The Mary Show, presented by Seagram's Gin
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center, 601 Seventh St.
Admission: $30.50 in advance, $36 at the door.
Mary J. Blige: You can hear a snippet of the song Deep Inside from the release Mary by calling INFOLINE at 442-4444, then dialing 8102.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626.