Mary J. Blige
Marcus & Indrani

With her new album, Mary J. Blige celebrates her favorite holiday.

When Mary J. Blige released her debut album in 1992, she was dubbed “the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” Her gritty, urban sound stood in stark contrast to the slick pop of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Now, having won nine Grammys, sold more than 50 million albums and made Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” the Bronx-bred vocalist is showing fans a softer side on her first Christmas album, A Mary Christmas. The R&B legend talks with American Way about this most wonderful time of year.

American Way: Is it safe to assume Christmas is your favorite holiday?
Mary J. Blige:
I love it! It makes you feel so happy and joyful. As a kid, I wanted to love everybody all the time. When Christmas came, there was something in the air that just made you want to give, hug, eat and be around family. It’s my favorite time of year.

AW: Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?
When I was about 7, there was this commercial for a doll called Dancerella. My sister and I would go crazy over it. We really wanted that doll and we told our mother, but we didn’t think we were going to get it because she was a single mom. She got us that doll for Christmas, and we were so happy when we opened our box for Christmas and saw ­Dancerella inside.

AW: What was the biggest challenge in making A Mary Christmas?
Making something classic that people will listen to every year and love, the way we loved Nat King Cole when we were kids. They played “The Christmas Song” so much on the radio, and it means so much to us to this day. When I hear it, it brings tears to my eyes. I wanted to make something that people would feel in their gut like that.

AW: Were there particular songs you couldn’t wait to tackle?
I couldn’t wait to wrap my hands around “The Christmas Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which I did a jazzy-soul version of. But you’ve got to hear my fun version of “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which is a little different from what fans might expect from me. With Christmas music, as long as you nail it, your fans are like, “I didn’t know she could do that!”

AW: You seem to enjoy giving back by working with young artists, on reality shows like American Idol and through your Matriarch Records label. What do you get out of the mentoring process?
These kids really want to be successful and have people respect and love them for what they do. It makes me feel good to pass on information that can help them, as well as tell them what not to do. I love to tell them the truth because they can’t grow without it. I feel good about passing on the things I’ve learned.