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Essence Fest: 7 Female R&B Acts You Need To Know

Ella Mai

Photo: Peter Forest/Getty Images

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Essence Fest: 7 Female R&B Acts You Need To Know

The annual music event introduces a slew of rising R&B stars

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2018 - 10:27 pm

Essence Fest is the ultimate celebration of Black women and music. And while it manifests that mission through dynamic headline shows featuring some of music’s biggest acts (Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott and Erykah Badu), it also serves as a major introduction for a slew of up and coming artists. And this year was certainly nothing different. Over the course of the three day event, we have spotted seven rising female acts whose music you need to explore right now.

Ella Mai
The summer (and in part Essence Fest) belongs to Ella Mai. Her chart-topping breakout single “Boo’d Up” has induced instant sing-a-longs all week, and the recent release of a remix featuring Nicki Minaj and Quavo of The Migos, shows that the British R&B singer is not slowing down. 

Denisia
If you’re a New Orleans native, Denisia is certainly not a new artist. She first garnered mainstream attention back in 2015 when she was featured on YaBoyBigChoo’s cover of Adele’s hit “Hello”, remixed in the locally popular bounce music style.

H.E.R.
The mysterious R&B singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whose identity at one point didn’t go beyond a shadow and silhouette, is fully stepping into the spotlight---albeit with her face still slightly concealed by oversized sunglasses. After her soul-stirring performance at the 2018 BET Awards went viral, H.E.R. (an acronym for "Having Everything Revealed") hit the Essence Fest Superlounge to a massive crowd.



Yanina
A student at the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston, rising songstress Yanina made her Essence Fest debut this year. Currently working on a yet-to-be-titled EP, she is making her mark thanks to her powerhouse voice, dancing ability and a striking stage presence.

June’s Diary
Groups formed via reality shows typically have a shelf-life that expires at the end of a TV season. But every so often there are exceptions. Enter June’s Diary. Formed on the Kelly Rowland-executive produced BET show Chasing Destiny, this talented line-up of singers have the harmonies, moves, and style that puts them on par with the great girl groups of the past.

Mykia Jovan
Mykia Jovan is proving to be a name bubbling in the progressive soul music scene. The New Orleans native’s unique vocal quality has been compared to the likes of Erykah Badu and the late great Billie Holiday. Her debut album Elliyahu is currently available at mykiajovan.com.

Victory Boyd
After one hears Victory Boyd’s voice, it becomes clear why Jay-Z signed the New Jersey-native to his Roc Nation music label after hearing her perform just two songs. Many have placed her vocally in the lane of Tracy Chapman, Roberta Flack, and Nina Simone. However, her approach to soul and folk music is so fresh and youthful, that she is in a lane of her own.

Catching Up On Music News Powered By The Recording Academy Just Got Easier. Have A Google Home Device? "Talk To GRAMMYs"
 

Songbook: How Mary J. Blige Became The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul Through Empathy, Attitude And An Open Heart
Mary J. Blige

Photos: (L to R): Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc; Ethan Miller/Getty Images; KMazur/WireImage; Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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Songbook: How Mary J. Blige Became The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul Through Empathy, Attitude And An Open Heart

With 14 albums and nine GRAMMYs under her belt, Mary J. Blige puts no limitations on the music she creates. Explore her extensive catalog of hits, soundtrack favorites, stunning covers and impactful remixes.

GRAMMYs/Jan 30, 2023 - 06:26 pm

Mary J. Blige’s tireless work ethic, extraordinary singing talent and soul-level relatability are the secret ingredients to her longevity as a recording artist. Her discography includes nine GRAMMY wins and 37 nominations, and the multi-hyphenate artist continues to demonstrate that there's no limit to her creativity.

Blige is nominated for six awards at the 2023 GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year and Best R&B Album for Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe). The title track is nominated in three categories: Record Of The Year, Best Traditional R&B Performance and Best R&B Song, and "Here With Me" is up for Best R&B Performance.

Good Morning Gorgeous encapsulates the true self-love Blige felt after healing from divorce, abusive relationships and depression. As she explains on an album interlude "good morning gorgeous" is the affirmation Blige now says to herself in the mornings — and, for the first time, she believes it. And when it comes to the odds of adding to her GRAMMY wins on Feb. 5, it’s safe to wager that Blige thinks they’re sound.

"Bet on me, why not?" Blige sings in the chorus of the album’s "On Top." "Don’t act like I never left on top."

For her resonant musical messages, Blige has been crowned the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. But  she’s also an industry professional who deftly sets and iterates on trends, keeping even her earliest releases relevant and exciting. 

Blige became a record label boss when she released Good Morning Gorgeous as a joint venture between Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment and her own Mary Jane Productions. She’s a frequent executive producer of her albums and multimedia projects and is set to executive produce two fictional films for Lifetime in 2023 through her production company Blue Butterfly. Real Love and Strength of a Woman are both named for her songs. Real Love is described as a romantic drama set in an upstate New York college. 

After more than 30 years of recording, Blige has amassed an acclaimed and extensive discography of consummate original classics, deep soundtrack cuts, scene-stealing covers and remixes. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist above and use the below guide as a diving board into a career full of the empathetic pain, healing, promise and happiness that she has shared with unflinching honesty and vulnerability.

The Queen Of Hip-Hop Soul

Blige was living in a housing project in Yonkers, N.Y. when the late Andre Harrell signed her to his Uptown Records, which released her 1992 debut album, What’s The 411? Harrell coined the nickname Queen of Hip-Hop Soul to describe the fresh way Blige's music melded rap beats with R&B hooks.

Harrell and his then-intern Sean Combs gave her a rugged style to match her music, with boots and baseball caps instead of heels and sparkles. Young women from the inner city saw themselves in Blige's aesthetic and in her rawness.

Yet admiration for Blige’s powerful vocals and unique tone grew before her name was ever recognized. Blige was first heard as a backup singer for Father MC’s 1990 hit "I'll Do 4 U" and, the following year, her own single "You Remind Me" (from the Strictly Business soundtrack) gave Blige some street buzz to lead into What’s The 411? The hip-hop swagger of "Real Love" — which samples "Top Billin'" by Audio Two, a beat highly familiar to New York City fans at the time — served as her formal introduction to the world and remains a calling card decades later.

The My Life Era (Extended Mix)

Contrary to the music industry’s sophomore slump stereotype, Blige’s second album is a seminal work. 1994's My Life became career-defining, and an album that she has subsequently reflected on to show her growth.

The album is a reflection of her volatile relationship with singer Cedric "K-Ci" Hailey, Blige explained in Mary J. Blige’s My Life, a documentary she executive produced for Amazon Studios in honor of the album’s 25th anniversary. Throughout, Blige keenly pairs heights of happiness with depths of her despair on songs like "You Bring Me Joy," "I’m Goin’ Down," "I Love You" and "Be Happy." 

"The whole 'My Life' album is, 'Please love me, don’t go, I need you,'" she said in the documentary. Combs, then known as Puffy, continued: "When she made that album, she was fighting for her heart." (Combs and Harrell served as executive producers of My Life.)

Blige and Combs never collaborated quite so closely again, though they remained friends. Combs didn’t produce 2011’s My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1), but he appears in a telephone skit to open the album, similarly to how he did on My Life. The sequel features guest stars such as Nas, Beyoncé and Drake.

Though her earlier works hinted at the potential, My Life most firmly established Blige as a beacon for hurt hearts everywhere. In a 2021 interview with Trevor Noah, Blige described how childhood physical and mental abuse, as well as her relationship with Hailey, led to substance abuse and depression. When she used the songs on My Life as a way of saying she needed help, "four million people responded and said, ‘'We need help, too.'"

Covers, Collaborations And Remixes

Cover songs have been an acclaimed — and long-lasting — part of Blige’s career ever since she sang "Sweet Thing" by Rufus featuring Chaka Khan on What’s The 411? Blige released her hugely popular version of Rose Royce’s "I’m Goin’ Down" in 1994, which reached No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and she beat Beyoncé to the punch in 2000 with her take on Maze’s "Before I Let Go."

But her ascension to rock star status has a lot to do with her scene-stealing covers of songs of stadium-level acts. Blige has delivered epic versions of songs by Led Zeppelin ("Stairway To Heaven") and Sting ("Whenever I Say Your Name"), and when she collaborated with U2 on a new version of "One," there’s an audible battle with Bono as to whose song this is now.

Blige collaborates with rap, R&B, rock, country, electronic and classical artists with equal ease, and her discography includes work with late legends, including "Holdin’ On" with Aretha Franklin and a cover of Stevie Wonder’s "As" with George Michael. She won her first career GRAMMY in 1995 for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for "I'll Be There For You / You're All I Need To Get By," a collaboration with Method Man that covers Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

A dance music collaboration with London duo Disclosure called "F for You" in 2013 helped to catalyze an entire album from the Capital of England called The London Sessions. The 2014 album features a second collaboration with Disclosure ("Right Now"), a cameo from UK garage DJ/producer MJ Cole ("Nobody But You") and guest vocals from Scottish singer Emeli Sandé ("Whole Damn Year").

Blige has long understood the potency of both hip-hop and dance music remixes, which remain a part of her single roll-outs. Over the years, she created a remix album of songs from What’s The 411?, and in 2002 released club-focused reworks of songs from No More Drama, Mary and Share My World on Dance For Me

Blige's remixes also pay homage. On her cover of First Choice’s "Let No Man Put Asunder," Blige honors singers who came before by featuring guest vocals from the group's lead singer, Rochelle Fleming.

Her Rap Alter Ego

Blige has rapped a few times on her albums, beginning with a verse in "Love," from 2001’s No More Drama. She won her first solo GRAMMY for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance in 2003 for "He Think I Don't Know" from No More Drama. By the time she rhymed on "Enough Cryin’" and "Take Me As I Am" (both from 2005’s The Breakthrough), her rap alter ego had a name: Brook Lynn.

Her cadence caught the ear of her friend Busta Rhymes, who recruited Blige for his "Touch It (Remix)" the next year. "The haters plot and they watch, lookin’ all pale/While I’m on a yacht overseas, doin’ my nails," she raps alongside Busta, Missy Elliott and Rah Digga.

Brook Lynn took a hiatus for a few years after that, but she came back blazing in 2011. "Homegirls love me and we be ridin' Phantoms/Mad chicks hate me 'cause I be writin' anthems," she rhymes on "Midnight Drive" from My Life II… The Journey Continues (Act 1)

The Soundtracks

Since "You Remind Me," her first Top 40 entry, appeared on the soundtrack to Strictly Business, Blige has written stunning original songs such as "I Can See in Color" for Precious (2009). She has also licensed other hits to dozens of movies.

After years of contributing to soundtracks, Blige created her own as executive producer and performer of the soundtrack for Think Like a Man Too (2014), which includes a cover of Shalamar’s "A Night to Remember" and guest appearances by Pharrell Williams and The-Dream.

Blige has been cast in several acting roles since she guest starred in an episode of The Jamie Foxx Show in 1998 and has played fictional characters as well as real life figures Betty Shabazz (Betty and Coretta) and Dinah Washington (Respect). She received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Original Song for her work on 2017 film Mudbound.

More than 30 years into her recording career, Blige appears happy, energized and ready to add more hits and heartfelt anthems to her songbook.

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2023 GRAMMYs Performers Announced: Bad Bunny, Lizzo, Sam Smith, Steve Lacy, Mary J. Blige & More Confirmed
(Clockwise, L-R): Bad Bunny, Kim Petras, Sam Smith, Luke Combs, Steve Lacy, Brandi Carlile, Lizzo, Mary J. Blige

Photos Courtesy of the Artists

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2023 GRAMMYs Performers Announced: Bad Bunny, Lizzo, Sam Smith, Steve Lacy, Mary J. Blige & More Confirmed

The first wave of 2023 GRAMMYs performers has been announced: Bad Bunny, Mary J. Blige, Brandi Carlile, Luke Combs, Steve Lacy, Lizzo, Kim Petras, and Sam Smith. Catch them all on Sunday, Feb. 5, on CBS, Paramount+, and live.GRAMMY.com!

GRAMMYs/Jan 25, 2023 - 03:00 pm

(Editor’s note: since this post’s publication, Harry Styles has been added as a performer, and Questlove announced he is co-curating the Hip-Hop 50 tribute performance at the 2023 GRAMMYs.)

We all knew Music's Biggest Night would be explosive this year. Now, GRAMMY night just got bigger! The first round of performers for the 2023 GRAMMYs has been announced. Taking the GRAMMY stage will be current nominees Bad Bunny, Mary J. Blige, Brandi Carlile, Luke Combs, Steve Lacy, Lizzo, Kim Petras, and Sam Smith.

Live from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles and hosted by Trevor Noah, the 2023 GRAMMYs will be broadcast live on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.

Prior to the Telecast, the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony will be broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater at 12:30 p.m. PT and will be streamed live on live.GRAMMY.com. Additional performers will be announced in the coming days.

On GRAMMY Sunday, fans can access exclusive, behind-the-scenes GRAMMYs content, including performances, acceptance speeches, interviews from the GRAMMY Live red-carpet special, and more via the Recording Academy's digital experience on live.GRAMMY.com.

Read More: Where, What Channel & How To Watch The Full 2023 GRAMMYs

Learn more about the 2023 GRAMMYs performers and host here and below:

Two-time GRAMMY winner Bad Bunny is up for three GRAMMY nominations: Album Of The Year (Un Verano Sin Ti), Best Pop Solo Performance ("Moscow Mule") and Best Música Urbana Album (Un Verano Sin Ti).

Nine-time GRAMMY winner Mary J. Blige is nominated for six GRAMMY Awards: Record Of The Year ("Good Morning Gorgeous"), Album Of The Year (Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)), Best R&B Performance ("Here With Me"), Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Good Morning Gorgeous"), Best R&B Song ("Good Morning Gorgeous"), and Best R&B Album (Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)).  

Six-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile is nominated for seven GRAMMY Awards this year: Record Of The Year ("You And Me On The Rock"), Album Of The Year (In These Silent Days), Best Rock Performance ("Broken Horses"), Best Rock Song ("Broken Horses"), Best Americana Performance ("You And Me On The Rock"), Best American Roots Song ("You And Me On The Rock"), and Best Americana Album (In These Silent Days). 

Listen Now: The Official 2023 GRAMMYs Playlist Is Here: Listen To 115 Songs By Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar & More

Luke Combs is up for three GRAMMY nominations: Best Country Duo/Group Performance ("Outrunnin' Your Memory"), Best Country Song ("Doin' This") and Best Country Album (Growin' Up). 

Steve Lacy is up for four GRAMMY nominations: Record Of The Year ("Bad Habit"), Song Of The Year ("Bad Habit"), Best Pop Solo Performance ("Bad Habit"), and Best Progressive R&B Album (Gemini Rights). 

Read More: A Look At The Nominees For Album Of The Year At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

Three-time GRAMMY winner Lizzo is nominated for five GRAMMY Awards: Record Of The Year ("About Damn Time"), Album Of The Year (Special), Song Of The Year ("About Damn Time"), Best Pop Solo Performance ("About Damn Time"), and Best Pop Vocal Album (Special).

First-time nominee Kim Petras is up for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Unholy").

Four-time GRAMMY winner Sam Smith is nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Unholy").

Keep checking back here on GRAMMY.com for more details on the 2023 GRAMMYs — and tune in on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT to watch who takes home GRAMMY gold. And head to live.GRAMMY.com for a dynamic and expansive online experience where you can explore Music's Biggest Night in full.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

The Recording Academy And GREY GOOSE Vodka Launch 'Sound Sessions' Featuring Muni Long, Ella Mai, and Pink Sweat$
GREY GOOSE Passion Drop

Photo: Courtesy GREY GOOSE

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The Recording Academy And GREY GOOSE Vodka Launch 'Sound Sessions' Featuring Muni Long, Ella Mai, and Pink Sweat$

As the Official Spirit of the GRAMMY Awards, the Recording Academy collaborated with GREY GOOSE Vodka to launch the digital series featuring exclusive performances from GRAMMY-winning and -nominated artists, including Muni Long, Ella Mai and Pink Sweat$.

GRAMMYs/Jan 24, 2023 - 12:29 am

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, GREY GOOSE is kicking off the second year of its partnership with The Recording Academy as the "Official Spirits Partner of the 65th Annual GRAMMY Awards" with GREY GOOSE x GRAMMYs: Sound Sessions, a weekly digital series that will feature current GRAMMY nominee Muni Long, acclaimed singer/songwriter Pink Sweat$, and GRAMMY winner and current GRAMMY nominee Ella Mai. Debuting Jan. 23, the series will stream on Instagram and YouTube now through GRAMMY weekend.

"We are thrilled to be continuing our partnership with the Recording Academy for a second year," said Aleco Azqueta, Vice President of Marketing for GREY GOOSE Vodka. "A celebration of the year's best music deserves the best cocktails, so GREY GOOSE is honored to toast to all of this year's nominees. Like the lyrics and melody of a great song, our Sound Sessions series shows just how well music and GREY GOOSE cocktails go together. It features some incredible talent and even a few surprises, so you won't want to miss each installment."

"The Recording Academy is dedicated to celebrating excellence in the recording industry and protecting music's place in our culture," said Adam Roth, Senior Vice President, Partnerships & Business Development at the Recording Academy. "We firmly believe GREY GOOSE shares this same sentiment, which is why we're so excited to partner together for a second year. Our Sound Sessions content series is a perfect example of what our two brands stand for when it comes to music: celebrating artistic expression and elevating creative voices."

The first Sound Sessions episode featuring Muni Long is now available on YouTube and will be followed by Pink Sweat$ on Thursday, Jan. 26, and Ella Mai on Thursday, Feb. 2. With every episode, fans can expect to see intimate musical performances and exclusive interviews where each artist will take them through the "ingredients" of their hit songs, while mixing together the ingredients of one of their favorite GREY GOOSE cocktails

"It's been a pleasure to be a part of Sound Sessions with GREY GOOSE Vodka and the Recording Academy to celebrate a year of incredible music," said four-time GRAMMY-nominated recording artist Muni Long. "I'm thrilled to perform my nominated song 'Hrs and Hrs,' and I hope it brings joy and inspiration to all my fans as their support means so much to me. It was also so fun to try my hand at making the official cocktail of the GRAMMYs, The Passion Drop!"

In addition to the Sound Sessions series, GREY GOOSE will have a full-scale presence at a variety of events throughout GRAMMY weekend, including the second iteration of their hit Sound Sessions Brunch on Saturday, Feb. 4. The star-studded affair will be held in Los Angeles and feature a live performance from two-time GRAMMY winner Jazmine Sullivan. The Passion Drop, a citrusy-sweet martini cocktail, will also return as the official drink of the GRAMMY Awards and be served at all Recording Academy events throughout the weekend.

All "GREY GOOSE x GRAMMYs: Sound Sessions" content can be accessed by following each artist, along with @greygoose and @recordingacademy, on all social platforms, as well as on the official GRAMMYs Content Hub.

The Official Drink of the 65th GRAMMY Awards, The Passion Drop by Grey Goose Vodka

GREY GOOSE PASSION DROP

  • 1.5 oz GREY GOOSE ​Vodka

  • .5 oz Small Hand Foods Ginger Syrup ​

  • .5 oz Fresh Lemon Juice ​

  • .5 oz Boiron Passionfruit Puree ​

  • .25 oz Simple Syrup (1:1 ratio of sugar to water) ​

Method: Combine all ingredients in a shaker packed with ice. Shake and strain up in a GREY GOOSE martini glass.​

Garnish: Lemon twist

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

Mayor Of Los Angeles Karen Bass To Give Keynote Address At 25th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative During 2023 GRAMMY Week Event
(L to R): Peter Paterno, Mayor of Los Angeles Karen Bass, and Aron Lichtshein

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Mayor Of Los Angeles Karen Bass To Give Keynote Address At 25th Annual Entertainment Law Initiative During 2023 GRAMMY Week Event

The Recording Academy Entertainment Law Initiative will welcome Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass as the keynote speaker for its annual GRAMMY Week Event.

GRAMMYs/Jan 20, 2023 - 02:00 pm

Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy Entertainment Law Initiative will welcome Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass as the keynote speaker for its annual GRAMMY Week Event. Mayor Bass will join leaders in the legal and creative communities at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Fri, Feb. 3, as they celebrate the work of their peers and the year-round efforts of the Entertainment Law Initiative, which aims to encourage discussion and debate around the impact of legal affairs on the music industry.

"We are honored to welcome Mayor Karen Bass to the ELI GRAMMY Week Event as we gather and celebrate with the trailblazing professionals and students who are paving the way forward in the entertainment law industry," Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason jr. said. "Mayor Bass has been a longtime supporter of music creators' rights in her legislative roles, and she has a unique understanding of how the creative industries intersect with law and policy that we look forward to hearing at this year's event."

"I'm proud to support GRAMMY Week because of the role that our entertainment industry plays in powering our local economy and to encourage efforts to increase equity and opportunities for Angelenos to break into the music business," Mayor Bass said.

Mayor Bass was sworn in as L.A.'s mayor on Dec. 11, 2022, after representing California's 33rd Congressional District from 2011 to 2013 and its 37th Congressional District from 2013 to 2022 in the U.S. House of Representatives. Between 2004 and 2010, she served in the California State Assembly and was elected as Speaker in 2008. 

The event will also honor the winner and runners-up of the Entertainment Law Initiative Writing Contest, co-sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA). The contest challenges students in Juris Doctorate and Master of Laws programs at U.S. law schools to research a pressing legal issue facing the modern music industry and outline a proposed solution in a 3,000-word essay. The winner of this year's Writing Contest is Aron Lichtschein, a JD student at NYU School of Law, for his essay, "Tickets to Ride: NFTs and the Future of Concert Ticketing." Lichtschein will receive a $10,000 scholarship as well as tickets to the 2023 GRAMMY Awards and other GRAMMY Week events. As well, his essay will be published in the ABA's journal Entertainment & Sports Lawyer. Runners-up Gina Maeng and Amanda Sharp, students at Georgetown Law School and University of San Diego School of Law, respectively, will each receive $2,500 scholarships for their essays.

The Recording Academy announced last month that Peter T. Paterno, Partner at King, Holmes, Paterno & Soriano, LLP, will receive the 2023 Entertainment Law Initiative Service Award at the ELI GRAMMY Week Event; the award is presented each year to an attorney who has demonstrated a commitment to advancing and supporting the music community through service. 

Where, What Channel & How To Watch The Full 2023 Grammys