Mary J. Blige is known as the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul” for her powerful vocals, raw emotion, and signature style. One key aspect of her iconic look has always been her glamorous, dramatic makeup. For over two decades, Mary’s longtime makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff (known as Ashunta Black) has been the creative genius behind her unforgettable beauty looks.
Ashunta began working with Mary in the early 90s and has crafted her on-stage and red carpet makeup ever since. She knows how to accentuate Mary’s natural beauty while also creating show-stopping, editorial looks. Let’s explore Ashunta Black’s approach and techniques to learn beauty tips and tricks from the master makeup artist behind Mary J. Blige.
The Base: Flawless Complexion
A flawless, even complexion sets the stage for Mary’s makeup. Ashunta preps her skin to perfection starting with skincare. She notes the importance of hydration and priming for a smooth makeup application. After moisturizer, she uses a hydrating primer like Too Faced Hangover Rx. Priming creates the perfect canvas before going in with foundation and concealer.
For foundation, Ashunta uses fuller coverage formulas to even out skin tone and conceal any imperfections. Some favorites are Make Up For Ever Ultra HD or Fenty Pro Filt’r. She blends the foundation in with a damp makeup sponge for a seamless, airbrushed effect. Ashunta brightens undereyes with concealer like Tarte Shape Tape. The key is blending so the coverage looks natural, not cakey. Well-prepped skin allows Ashunta to layer on bold, creative color.
Sculpting and Contouring
Ashunta is a contouring queen, using shadow and light to sculpt Mary’s facial structure. Cream contour is her secret weapon for a realistic, defined look. She chooses cool-toned shades like Fenty Match Stix in Amber to carve out Mary’s cheekbones. After blending the contour, she’ll go back in with foundation to perfect the shape.
For a soft, diffused finish Ashunta advises using a brush to blend cream contour. She alsocontours the jawline, hairline, and sides of the nose for added dimension. Don’t forget to warm the complexion back up with a bronzer like Black Radiance Artisan Color in Toasted Almond. Ashunta balances sculpting with strategic highlighting.
No Mary J. Blige makeup look is complete without intense highlighting. Ashunta uses highlighter to play with light and draw focus to key points. Her go-to highlighting products are Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector liquid and Fenty Match Stix in Starstruck. She applies highlighter generously on the cheekbones, cupids bow, chin, brow bone and inner corners of the eyes.
For photo shoots and red carpets, Ashunta amps up the glow by layering cream and powder highlighter. She also spritzes setting spray like Urban Decay All Nighter for an extra dewy, radiant finish. Ashunta’s expert highlighting lets Mary’s natural beauty shine through for a luminous, goddess-like effect.
Smoky Eyes and Bold Brows
Mary’s eyes are an anchor for her expressive, artsy makeup. Ashunta creates striking smoky eyes in shades like black, charcoal, silver, and jewel tones. She starts by using an eyeshadow primer like Urban Decay Primer Potion to prep lids. After applying a neutral base color all over the eye, she adds depth in the crease and outer corners.
Adding darker shades of eyeshadow creates a smoky, sultry effect. For extra intensity, Ashunta lines the upper and lower lashline with black liner. She smudges the liner to soften any harsh edges. To make eyes pop, she coats lashes with volumizing mascara like Dior Diorshow. Ashunta finishes bold eye looks with strong, defined brows using brow pencils and gels.
Mary’s lip looks range from nude and natural to deep plums, reds and burgundies. Ashunta lines and fills in lips for maximum pigmentation using lip liners like MAC’s Chestnut or NYC’s Plum. Her favorite long-lasting lipstick formulas are Mattemoiselle Plush Matte from Fenty Beauty and Stunna Lip Paint by Fenty as well.
For a high-fashion look, Ashunta plays with unusual lip colors like blue, green or black. She makes lips the focal point with ombré lips using a lighter shade on the inner lips blended into a darker color on the outer edges. With the perfect pout, the makeup look is complete.
Artistry and Innovation
Beyond mastering techniques, Ashunta approaches makeup as an art. She experiments with unique color combinations and designs tailored to Mary’s mood, music and look. At Essence Festival in 2019, Ashunta created a gorgeous geometric eyeliner look inspired by Afrofuturism. For Mary’s roles in musicals like The Color Purple, she designs stage-worthy makeup that pops on camera.
She is also skilled at translating runway and editorial looks for Mary’s performances and events. In an interview with Refinery29, Ashunta described her creative process. “I’m never afraid to just go for it and try something new. I’ll look at different shapes and colors and just see what I can make work.” This willingness to innovate keeps Mary on the cutting edge.
Tips and Tricks from Ashunta
When asked about her top beauty tips, Ashunta emphasizes the importance of great skincare, hydration and well-prepped skin. Her favorite trick is using lip liner to make lipstick last flawlessly. She also stresses not being afraid to just go for a bold look and have fun with makeup.
Here are some of Ashunta’s top makeup artist tips:
- Moisturize and prime skin well before makeup
- Use a damp sponge for flawless blending
- Don’t overdo powder – let skin shine through
- Cream products look more natural for contouring
- Apply highlighter generously on high points
- Use an eyeshadow primer for intense color payoff
- Smudge liner with a brush or q-tip to soften the look
- Layer cream and powder highlights for maximum glow
- Have fun and experiment with bold colors!
Ashunta’s work empowers women to embrace their beauty, creativity, and confidence through makeup. After decades perfecting Mary’s iconic looks, she knows better than anyone how to achieve show-stopping glam. By following her techniques and advice, we can all channel our inner Mary J. Blige.
Ashunta’s Career and Legacy
Originally from Cleveland, Ashunta began pursuing makeup artistry as a teenager. She took courses at the Marinello School of Beauty and started freelancing. In the early 90s, she connected with Mary through celebrity hairstylist Kim Kimble. Since then, she has worked closely with Mary to create her music video, red carpet, touring, and everyday makeup looks.
Beyond her work with Mary, Ashunta is an in-demand makeup artist. Her client list includes Angela Bassett, Vanessa Williams, Regina King, Janelle Monae, and Letitia Wright. She has created makeup for major motion pictures, theater productions, TV shows, commercials and advertising campaigns.
Ashunta’s work has graced the glossy pages of magazines like Vogue, Glamour, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Essence and more. She represented the US in the Chanel “Beauty in Progress” makeup campaign in 2021. As a trailblazer in her industry, Ashunta wants to inspire more diversity in makeup artistry.
In interviews, Ashunta also stresses the importance of uplifting and collaborating with other artists. She co-founded the Black Artist Collective to provide education, mentorship and job opportunities. Their goal is to amplify the work of Black creatives in the beauty industry.
After decades in the business, Ashunta is still thriving. Today she splits her time between New York and Los Angeles while working with A-list clients. Although Mary J. Blige will always be her number one, Ashunta’s incredible talent shines through in every face she touches. She has left an indelible mark on the beauty industry through her artistry, innovation and advocacy.