Willie Geist finally got to thank the queen of hip-hop soul for her help when it came to his '90s high school romance with his future wife.
The host of Sunday TODAY reminisced with the legendary Mary J. Blige about her classic "What's the 411?" album and told her it was the soundtrack to his personal love story like it has been for countless others over the years.
Watch TODAY All Day! Get the best news, information and inspiration from TODAY, all day long.
"That music meant so much," he told her. "I made that mixtape for my high school girlfriend. And she's in the house behind me. She's my wife and the mother of my children. So we owe you a big one, Mary."
"That's so nice to hear," Blige said. "I love these stories."
Willie and his wife, Christina, were a couple at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey when Blige's chart-topping debut album was released in the summer of 1992 ahead of Willie's senior year.
"I was dating Christina and we exchanged mix tapes, as early 1990s era romantics often did," he said. "Mary J. made my job as an analog DJ and high school boyfriend very easy, with songs like 'Sweet Thing,' 'Reminisce,' and 'Real Love.'
"I like to think Christina and I were pretty solid on our own merits, but there's no question Mary J. helped to lock it down. As I said to Mary in our interview, she gets a big assist for the wife, kids and life I lucked into."
Blige followed "What's the 411?" with "My Life" in 1994, which came at a time in her personal life where she was struggling with addiction and depression. The 25th anniversary of "My Life" is now the subject of an upcoming Amazon documentary.
"It's what started the movement between me and my fans and I," Blige said. "Because this album was probably ... one of the lowest points in my life, as a young woman. I thought I was the only one going through all the hell that I was going through. And four million people went out and purchased the album and told me, 'Well, Mary, we're going through it, too.'"
Twenty-eight years after the release of her debut album, Blige has been hard at work on new music during her time in quarantine in her New Jersey home amid the pandemic. She says there will "definitely be a new album coming."
"Well, I've had a lot of music already completed before quarantine, but I've been writing a lot just about life, about myself, about the quarantine, about what people are going through," she said. "I wake up in the middle of the night and grab my phone and type in my notes ... so I got a lot of stuff to say. And a lot of stuff to sing."
Blige has also found time to get into the wine business, pairing up with Italy's Fantinel Winery to introduce Sun Goddess Wines in June. She and Willie shared a backyard toast of Sun Goddess during their chat.
The idea began when she was on the tour with R&B star Maxwell and was out at dinner with him and some of his Italian friends.
"I was just drinkin' white wine the whole time, and one of 'em asked me, 'Why don't you do a white wine?'" she said. "And I just blurted out, 'Yeah, I should, because I love it so much.'
"We flew into Friuli, Italy. We started tasting wines out of these brown barrels and probably had, like, ten glasses of tasting of what I wanted the wine to taste like. From day one, it's just been all fun, all fun and all love, lots of love."