Mary J. Blige concert a bridge across the river ‘Turmoil’

Jen Day ThompsonBy Jennifer Day Thompson

I tend to avoid news sites. I even find myself staying away from social media some days. For a self-employed musician, social connections and engagement are everything. But every time I peruse Facebook or watch a local news broadcast, I’m bombarded with messages of hate and tragedy. I don’t report to an office each day.

My office is across the hall from my daughter’s bedroom. I may spend 3-4 days at home, working on music as I’m able while raising a two-year-old. When the end of the week arrives and our gig schedule kicks in, I venture out to towns in the  Southeast to make new friends and see old ones at our shows. 

Mary J. Blige Jacksonville
Photo of Mary J. Blige, ‘Strength of a Woman Tour’, Jacksonville, FL courtesy of David C. Thompson.

Music restores my faith in humanity. In a time of such social turmoil we all need something that gives us hope. When my sister and I see the faces of friends and strangers before us, all gathered in the same place for a common goal, the world doesn’t seem so divided.

My husband and I recently attended the Mary J. Blige concert in Jacksonville. Her ‘Strength of a Woman’ tour has set the stage for a glorious comeback for the veteran singer and performer. While we watched Mary emerge from behind a white screen, my first thought was that she hasn’t aged a bit. She is still beautiful and strong as ever.

I’ve lived in Florida for 15 years and grew up in the oven known as Columbia, SC. Mary J. withstood the heat of that August evening far better than I, under blazing lights, while dancing and singing her heart out for two hours.

The next realization was that, despite what news and media would have us think, we really can unite. Regardless of our political views, party affiliations, gender, race or any other designation, we can still come together and agree on a few things. People were there that night because of a love of music.

Mary J. opened up to the crowd about personal trials she’s endured. She preached strength, honor and love. She reminded us that violence is never the answer. The crowd response was overwhelming and, more importantly, unanimous. The audience was a true representation of our community, people of all different cultures and ages, men and women, all agreeing on some of the most basic core values.

My sister and I are always blown away when we meet new people who have been following us and our music. The idea that these songs we write and the music we create can inspire others is surreal at times. But what’s even more amazing is the unifying effect music has.

I don’t know what positions most of our supporters take on the hot button topics of our day, and I don’t care. All I know is that everyone has struggles, strengths, weaknesses and downfalls. It’s these endless differences that allow each of us to experience music in our own way, drawing hope from lyrics or peace from instrumental arrangements.

It doesn’t matter why we like the music we like. All that matters is that, for those moments, whether for two minutes of a song or two hours of a show, everyone there is together, united for a brief time, hoping to find what they’re looking for.

(September 25, 2017)

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