On a cool spring evening I made my way uptown to the Sugar Bar, located on West 72nd Street, for a listening party of a new artist. But in reality, this was no ordinary new artist. The listening party held in the restaurant owned by the iconic Ashford & Simpson was for LaTonya Blige, sister to Mary J. Blige the queen of hip hop /soul music.
Most people would believe that for LaTonya the stakes are high. She is following in the footsteps of her sister whose pioneering career paved the way for most R&B/hip hop divas in the game today. If the project is not successful, she will be raked over the coals by the media. But LaTonya is no stranger to the music industry. The Yonkers native has helped to co-manage, sing background vocals, co-write and co-produced songs for her sister as well as write and co-write songs for Mariah Carey and Faith Evans, all while balancing a family.
As I watched LaTonya become humbled by the love and support she received on stage by family, friends and other guests, it became abundantly clear that the new incarnation of LaTonya Bilge in the music business is not about individual glory, it is about the love of music and the love she has for the most high.
Shortly after her listening party, I had the opportunity to ask LaTonya a few questions about her new music and singing with her sister.
1. In the quest to get their material heard, most artists forget that music is a business. How did the years co-managing your sister help you as you prepared to step into the spotlight?
I came from a music background. My father had his own band and my mother sang occasionally with him. Working with my sister allowed me to take it to another level. I am a writer first, and then had my own publishing company. This showed me business perspectives as well.
2. Has there ever been a time that you questioned pursuing singing as a career?
Yes, because it was everyone’s vision at some point, but not the [right] time for me. Now is the time I felt [like] pursuing singing.
3. What events inspired you to want to sing gospel music?
I was asked to write a song for an artist to a track. For some reason I couldn’t write R&B lyrics, inspirational was what flowed. My original plan was to do a compilation album. I wanted many artists to participate, such as Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin, etc. I let my sister listen to the songs and she asked me, “Why aren’t you doing this as your own album?”
4. You have sung background for your sister Mary and also co-written songs with her. How did it feel working with your sister on your songs?
Nice, we always had good chemistry together.
5. What do you say when people compare you to your sister Mary?
There is no comparison. My sister has been in this industry [over] 20 years crafting her talent and I’m brand new.
6. You had a listening party at the Sugar Bar. Describe your feelings as you sang for your family, friends and Ashford and Simpson.
Wonderful, the love and support from family and friends can’t be measured.
7. What would you like your fans and people listening to your songs for the first time to take away from your music?
To view it simply as music [and] not to categorize, listen to the words in the song and hopefully it will help my listeners.