Though Forest Whitaker’s 1995 film Waiting to Exhale, based on the book by Terry McMillan was pivotal for Black women, the soundtrack has withstood the test of time. The award-winning soundtrack written and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds became the first all-female soundtrack when it was released.
The album included vocals from legends like Whitney Houston, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, and TLC among countless others. Though Blige was already well known when the soundtrack debuted, “Not Gon’ Cry” capitulated her into the stratosphere of superstardom, debuting at number one and two on the Billboard‘s R&B Singles and Hot 100 charts respectively. The song also earned the legendary songstress her third Grammy Award.
However, Blige almost didn’t bring the song to life. In a recent Instagram Live commemorating the 25th anniversary of Waiting to Exhale. Babyface revealed that the late legendary Andre Harrell didn’t think Blige was the right singer for the song.
Andre Harell discovered Mary J. Blige
Andre Harrell discovered Blige by chance. In early 1988 the then 17-year-old singer recorded a cover of Anita Baker’s “Caught Up in the Rapture” in one of those old school recording booths at a mall in White Plains, New York.
Blige’s mother’s boyfriend got the cassette recording in front of Uptown Records recording artist Jeff Redd, who then got the cassette to Harrell. In 1989, Harrell signed Blige to his company as a background singer making her the company’s youngest and first female artist.
It wasn’t until the ’90s after connecting with producer Sean “Diddy” Combs that Blige’s career skyrocketed.
Babyface was inspired to write the song because of a scene in ‘Waiting to Exhale’
When Whitaker asked Babyface to write, produce, and score the soundtrack, the producer watched scenes from the film scenes to get inspired. One of the most pivotal scenes in the film inspired the lyrics for “Not Gon’ Cry”.
“Bernadette (Angela Bassett) was kind of mad,” Babyface recalled of the scene on Instagram. “This was the highest level of pissed, she was way too mad to cry. There was only one person who could sing this, Mary J. Blige. I went to New York to record this with Mary. I was nervous because I didn’t know if we’d gel or not. She was young and I was old. She made me feel old and important at the same time because she called me, ‘Mr. Face.’ Then she sang the song like she’d been through it — like she wrote it. I was so proud when we finished the song.”
Andrew Harrell didn’t think Mary J. Blige was the right voice for ‘Not Gona Cry’
When Whitney Houston announced that she would not be singing every song on the album, Babyface had Blige in mind for “Not Gona Cry.” However, when he had Harrell listen to the song’s demo, the music executive thought Blige, then 23, was too young to sing a song about so much pain and life experience.
“I was parked outside the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills and played ‘Not Gon’ Cry’ for Andre in the car,” Babyface remembered. “Andre bopped to it and then said, ‘I don’t think that works for Mary. Well, Mary ain’t been married for 11 years, she don’t have kids… that’s not her image.’ I said to Andre, ‘I’m just going to have to disagree with you this time. Mary J is more than just Mary J. She’s the voice of pain and she’s the voice of love. There is no age limit for that, she speaks for all women.’ Love and pain are universal.”
Blige would go on to get her first top 10 pop single for the song.
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