Concert Review: Mary J. Blige & Lalah Hathaway – Strength of a Woman

 After the concert, on my commute home,
I started writing this in the notes section of my phone.
Very loosely edited.


I attended evening service tonight at the Chicago Theatre. Lalah Hathaway and Mary J. Blige preached a word. Look, ion’t know if it’s just where I am right now or what, but I’m hearing lyrics in a whole new way these days, with a whole new understanding of she’ness, Blackness, womonness, me’ness—so much clarity and context on real life situations.

Also, a lot of artists I’m seeing this summer are framed in either my early childhood or young-adulthood. I recently asked an elder if 43 is mid-life. Never really thought about it until I saw Common in concert at Ravinia. He’s a few years older than me, I think, and I was thinking about HipHop not only being for the youth. HipHop is mine, too.

Real talk, I needed the healing salve of tonight’s concert. In the midst of what has turned out to be a summer full of anything but chillin’, live music, more than ever, has truly been my therapy, an escape and a space of processing. Almost every show I’ve been too, I’ve had to make myself go because of the density of my days on many fronts.

Tonight’s concert kicked off the Strength of a Woman Tour and I felt like I was on an extended Girls Trip outing and debriefing with friends. Words…truths…pains…heart,  left on stage. This concert had the same sista-girl’ness of Girls Trip. We ain’t victims yall, but we are forever victimized by this world and this is why we must not only control our narratives, but hold our healing/sista-spaces and one another sacred.


Lalah came on stage with her locs pulled back in a ponytail and ret to be her usual smooth, perfectly pitched, sing so pretty in her “bottom” voice, self. Lalah just as dope as her daddy, like, for real for real. She paid homage to Ms. Anita Baker with her cover of “Angel” and “Caught Up in the Rapture.” She kept it ole skool with Earth Wind and Fire’s, “Love’s Holiday.” I felt as if I was supposed to be sweaty and pushed-up on a cute boy at a red-light basement party during the slow down.

I love that, just like her pops, she recorded a live record. I also love that Lalah reps Chicago and acknowledges it as her birthplace. I was hoping she sang Mirror and she didn’t fail. This song, Mirror, makes me think of my students, I often played this song in their group counseling sessions. The words are so poignant for all sistas, especially teenage girls.

Mirror (lyrics): Sometimes you gotta make the mirror your best friend / Maybe then, you’ll find some peace within / Stop hiding yourself, stop hiding yourself / Love yourself / When no one else can

Then she took us back to “Baby Don’t Cry” and she teased us with “Forever For Always” before she sang the song outright. R.I.P. Luffa (Luther Vandros). And, she gave us her new single “I Can’t Wait.”

*curtains closed…set change*

I had decent seats but I wanted, needed  s p a c e , so I made my way further back on the main floor to a sweet spot where the AC was right, I had full view of the stage, and I had space—space to be with my feelings and thoughts. Space to move…breathe…be. In doing this, I started having an even more personalized concert experience and it felt like being home within myself.

Mary enters walking down some stairs and I was excited for the P R O D U C T I O N ! Mary came to connect and tell a story…this was wrapped in “putting on a show,” but really, she wasn’t putting on a show, it was as if this opening night of the tour was a scheduled part of her healing. Not scheduled by concert promoters or her team, but ordained by the Universe.

Mary hit the stage on fire and I was engaged in the set-design and the lights/camera/action of such a show, in such an intimate space. It’s clear that the set, staging and details were for larger venues, but they made it do-what-it-do for the Chicago Theatre. I appreciate that.

Wait, but Mary came out so New York on us.

Sus is sooooo New York and fa’sho the Queen of HipHop Soul. She gave us high energy vocals and her classic Mary moves. She served up a medley including: “You Bring Me Joy,” “Reminisce – intro,” “You Remind Me,” “Real Love,” “Be Happy,” and “Love No Limit.” I came out of my own world for a minute to soak in the sistas reactions to her. It landed on me clearer than usual. Mary’s music touches sistas in a way that only we can do and be for one another. Within her music we have unspoken sista-circles and convergent conversations on life, love, and fighting for someone else, and for ourselves. It also hit me that I needed to add some more Mary songs to my playlist that I use with my students in group counseling. The lyrics pulsate, resonate, and light up my senses.

Real Love (lyrics): Real love, I’m searching for a real love / Someone to set my heart free /Real love, I’m searching for a real love / I’m out to have a real love

Be Happy (lyrics): How can I love somebody else / If I can’t love myself enough / To know when it’s time / Time to let go

Love No Limit (lyrics): Loving you (that’s all I want to do) / Every day (and every hour, baby) / Don’t you look no more / Love without a limit (my love is yours) / Loving you (that’s all I want to do) /Every day (and every minute, every hour baby) / Don’t you look no more / Love without a limit (my love is yours)

After this burst of energy, with the medley of songs, Mary slowed it down with “Don’t Mind,” and this is where the storytelling became more personal and intimate. Mary said she loves Chicago: “This place gets you going.” She continued with: “Ain’t nothing like the strength of a woman. I am a womon, so I can only speak to womyn. I understand us our pain…it takes a whole lot for strong womyn to show you we love you. Once we do brothas, you can only have one Queen. Take care of yo Queen. And, once we show you we’re independent stay secure King. Fellas you can’t be hitting womyn. I’m a lot selfish when it comes to my relationship, but don’t be coming home comparing me to anyone. I’m me, Mary. Can I put my trust in you? Don’t let me go.” She then went back into “I Don’t Mind” saying I love you and professing her love of 90s music.

She gave us, “Share My World” and “My Everything,” and then there was an outfit change. Mary returned with a 2nd outfit: ripped jean shorts, with animal print tank, thigh-high boots, a big floppy black hat and her blonde braid swept to the side. Vocally she returned with “My Life” and we, the audience, sang “I’m Going Down,” oh so loudly and with intentionality.

My Life (lyrics): Life can be only what you make it / When you’re feeling down you should never fake it / Say what’s on your mind and you’ll find in time / That all the negative energy, it would all decease / And you’ll be at peace with yourself / You won’t really need no one else / Except for the man up above / Because He’ll give you love

Wait, let me tella bout the sound system. OMG, I think this is one of the best I’ve ever heard the sound system in Chicago Theatre. Sound so crisp.

“Set Me Free,” my Gawd, this song, an exorcism happened. She was sanging to bring that feeling, thought, essence…person up/off of her spirit. She sang that song as if her survival counted on it. This sentiment continued with “U + Me” mixed in with, “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.” During the narrative she reminded us not lose ourselves for nobody else.

Set Me Free (lyrics): Tell me how you figure that you made me / And you gave me what I had before I meet ya / Ain’t gon’ have it when you’re gone / And how you fix your mouth to say I owe you / There’s a special place in hell for you / You gon’ pay for what you did to me / I’ma tell you, ’cause the truth will see me free, oh

“Thick of it,” she went deeper in her reserve for this song and she pulled up every bit of strength she could muster. She enunciated all the rhymey fast parts, she then she dropped it low and stood back up with her skin glistenin’—she’d worked up a sweat.

“Not Gon Cry,” she went to church: “he wasn’t worth…” she held her gut as she belted out “my precious tears.” She had to walk it off after that song and the stage went black, everyone sat down and she came back out composed and chanted: “fight fight fight.” No doubt Ms. Mary is fighting for her sanity and her life. “No More Drama,” she yelled the song to convince us and free herself. Some words became muddled and resembled a speaking in tongues of sorts. She passed out as if hands laid on her at the altar. Purged!

No More Drama (lyrics): Broken heart again / Another lesson learn / Better know your friends / Or else you will get burned / Gotta count on me / Cause I can guarantee / That I’ll be fine

What I thought was going to be a 3rd outfit change, wasn’t, sus needed to collect herself. During this time I was so very geeked for the video montage. I was taken back to Chicago clubs and hiphop nights at Funky Buddha and Sub T with, “All I need” and “411.”

After her refresher Mary came back with some Chaka, “Sweet Thing,” “Just Fine” (mixed with a Michael Jackson beat), and the hateration song.

Just Fine (lyrics): Let it go… / Can’t let this thing called love get away from you / Feel free right now, go do what you want to do / Can’t let nobody take it away, from you, from me, from we / No time for moping around, are you kidding? / And no time for negative vibes, cause I’m winning / It’s been a long week, I put in my hardest / Gonna live my life, feels so good to get it right

Mary shouted-out Taraji P. Henson who was in the bldg, and she commented that the vibe and energy of the audience felt good, was overwhelming and “crazy.”

Overall, to feel, is to experience Mary J Blige. Emotional intelligence on steroids. Class was in session on emoting and authenticity. Clearly this tour is apart of her healing. She left her heart on stage.


nicole jhan’rea

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