When Mary J. Blige and Hillary Clinton sat down for the first interview of Blige's new Beats 1 show, The 411, the presidential candidate wasn't expecting a private performance. But a song from the R&B singer launched, yes, a few hilarious memes, as well as a hugely important conversation that left an impact on them both.
The interview started off with personal questions and typical Q&A material — Clinton's relationship with her mother, her faith, and how she continues to navigate hurdles in her career — then turned to issues facing her campaign, namely gun control and the epidemic of police brutality. Blige then sang Bruce Springsteen's "American Skin (41 Shots)" for Clinton, a song that the rocker wrote following the 1999 death of Amadou Diallo, who was shot by NYPD officers when he reached for his wallet and they claimed to have thought he was reaching for a gun.
Springsteen would later call for justice for Trayvon Martin a decade after the slaying of Diallo at a 2012 concert with a performance of "American Skin (41 Shots)," and Blige's choice to sing it during her conversation with Clinton — when police brutality is an urgent, national concern and a major challenge facing the next president — was a poignant one that gave the topic its due weight.
Blige followed up her a cappella rendition of the song with questions of her own: "Where do we go from here? What is the first thing you would do to begin the healing process with all of this? What do we do?"
"I’ve been so heartbroken over what’s been going, on because it’s fundamentally ... wrong that African American parents have to sit their children down and deliver the message you just sang: 'Be careful,'" Clinton responded. "And yet we still have so many terrible deaths, some at the hands of the police, many at the hands of others, like Trayvon Martin, whose mother I’ve gotten to know so well. I think we’ve got to be honest, that there needs to be a greater opening of our hearts to one another. We have to put ourselves in each other’s shoes, feel the pain that a mother and a father feel when their son and daughter can go out the door and they don’t know what’s going to happen to them.
"I particularly want white people to understand what that's like, and to feel that they must be a part of the solution," Clinton continued. "There’s a lot we need to do. We need to do better training and work with our police so that they don’t immediately draw the wrong conclusions — like the song said, ‘a gun, a knife, or a wallet’ — and that they learn better ways to de-escalate tension and violence rather than to escalate and perhaps cause a death. I’ve met with lots of police officers. Many are honorable and very concerned about this as well, but we’ve got to do a better job to improve our policing, and improve our relations between our police and the communities they serve. You should have people respect the law, and the law should respect people."