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Making The Music to Accompany 'Mary J. Blige's My Life'

Mary J. Blige performs onstage at the 2019 BET Awards on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Mary J. Blige performs onstage at the 2019 BET Awards on June 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Someone recently said Mary J. Blige’s voice articulates with laser precision the pain of a generation.

That’s especially true of her 1994 album “My Life.” And on Friday audiences can stream a new Amazon documentary that explores this seminal album that lays bare some of Blige’s biggest life struggles.

Five-time Grammy winner Mervyn Warren composed the score for “Mary J. Blige’s My Life.”

To the beat of Warren’s music, Blige dives into her childhood growing up in the projects, abusive relationships and depression.

Watch on YouTube.

Producer Quincy Jones recommended Warren write the score for the film. He and Blige didn’t know each other before the project.

Warren and director Vanessa Roth wanted to support Blige’s story with music that both complemented and contrasted her iconic music.

“We didn’t want the score to sound like Mary’s songs,” he says.

Roth wanted Warren to use a solo voice that represents loneliness, contemplation and childhood throughout the film, he says.

Warren has worked with Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand and Faith Hill, among others. He also produced and arranged most of the music for Whitney Houston’s film “The Preacher’s Wife.”

He’s helped create some of the most powerful music with some of the most powerful women — but he says his habit of working with women vocalists is a coincidence.

Working with Houston was one of his favorite collaborations.

“When [Houston] stepped up to that mic and began to sing, I became a fan instead of a producer,” he says. “Well, I was already a fan, but I mean, I put on my fan hat and it’s just like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing.’ ”

Warren first learned to play the piano at age 5. Growing up in a religious household, he didn’t hear much pop or R&B music as a kid.

He got his start in jazz, despite the fact that his parents only ever listened to The Swingle Singers in the house. He also grew up listening to gospel musician Edwin Hawkins, singer Andraé Crouch, and piano duo Ferrante & Teicher.

“I was able to sneak and listen to other things,” he says. “And I sort of absorbed all sorts of musical styles that have informed and helped me do the work that I do today.”

Warren’s background in jazz later led to his work with gospel sextet Take 6. Now, though he does sometimes produce for artists, he enjoys working on films and TV shows the most.

“It’s not exactly left and right brain, but, you know, different parts of the creative brain to write songs and produce artists versus the sort of mathematical, if you will, approach that’s required for scoring film and TV,” he says. “But I love it all and I hope to continue doing it all.”


Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.