On Mary J. Blige’s 1999 album, Mary, one of the standout features was the late Aretha Franklin. A year prior, Franklin released A Rose Is Still a Rose, the studio album with which she reclaimed her title as the Queen of Soul. Although she was back on top at the time, a recently unearthed story suggests she was a consolation prize after Blige was unable to recruit Whitney Houston for a duet.
Following the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul’s 51st birthday on Tuesday (Jan. 11), Rated R&B published excerpts from a 2019 interview with Blige’s former manager, Kirk Burrowes, who revealed he originally intended for his client to collaborate with Houston on the 1999 LP.
While Burrowes had been booking Blige to honor Franklin, he wanted to leverage his existing relationship with Clive Davis. “I wanted Mary to do a duet with Whitney [Houston],” Burrowes revealed. “He had Whitney and Aretha Franklin, but what Clive did was cut the baby in half. So he set it up for me and Mary to do the Whitney duet on Divas Live, so I could get the Whitney duet that I wanted.”
At the Divas Live ‘99 special, during Houston’s set, she introduced Blige as the special guest. The two powerhouses paid tribute to Franklin—performing a dynamic rendition of her 1968 ballad, “Ain’t No Way.”
Later, Davis rejected the idea of Houston collaborating with Blige on Mary, and opted to provide Franklin for a duet instead. Burrowes expressed, ‘I was disappointed because Whitney and Mary at that time would have been, ‘Wow.’ But when he said, Ms. Aretha Franklin. I was like, ‘This is legendary. This is that moment to pass the baton.'”
Blige’s duet with Franklin, “Don’t Waste Your Time,” was nominated for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals at 42nd annual Grammy Awards.