Fresh from singing the national anthem at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium for a Thanksgiving NFL game, R&B superstar Mary J. Blige chose a more intimate setting for a Seattle performance Monday: the Starbucks at 23rd and Jackson, in the Central District.
The so-called Queen of R & B sang numbers from her recently released holiday album, “A Mary Christmas,” for some 60 people — baristas, local activists and some young women participating in YWCA programs that receive a cut of the Central District shop’s profits.
“I grew up in a neighborhood like this,” Blige said in an interview. She was accompanied by her Grammy award-winning producer, David Foster, who said that to perform in a coffeehouse reminded him of “where we started.”
Before the private concert, Blige and Foster toured Starbucks’ headquarters in Sodo, where they attended a coffee tasting and Foster discovered that there actually was a “Starbucks within a Starbucks,” he told the audience.
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The event illustrates two of the Seattle coffee giant’s bids to stay locally relevant after becoming an oft-criticized global empire: its involvement in the music business and a big push to establish some 50 “community stores.”
These stores seek to anchor challenged neighborhoods from Houston to Thailand to New York City, and the company gives a part of those locations’ sales — from 10 to 15 cents out of every transaction — to local organizations. The initiative was created in 2011, as public funding for nongovernmental organizations plummeted during the recession.
So far Starbucks has designated seven locations worldwide to serve as community stores, including in Lakewood, near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, announced last month.
Starbucks is selling Blige’s album online and at its stores.
“Mary J. Blige on 23rd and Jackson? That’s a big deal,” said community organizer Wyking Garrett, who was at the concert.
Blige’s performance, which included a rousing version of “Rudolph” and closed with “Winter Wonderland,” came as a surprise to 17-year old Nafisa Ali, a member of YWCA’s GirlsFirst leadership program for young women of color.
“They told us at the door,” said Ali, who came to the U.S. from Somalia with her parents when she was 11. “She was amazing.”
Andrea Brown, a Garfield High School senior and Starbucks employee who has worked at the Central District shop for six months, also got her chance in the spotlight. She raised her hand when Blige and Foster requested a volunteer from the audience, and before she knew it she was singing on the stage, she said.
“I just freaked out and I keep freaking out,” the 17-year-old said.
Ángel González; 206-464-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @gonzalezseattle