Rhythm and blues singer
By the tender age of twenty-one, Mario Barrett, known to fans simply as Mario, had achieved more than most aspiring entertainers could dream of. Since making his debut at age fifteen, he has recorded three hit albums—with another on the way—appeared in three Hollywood films, and played live to throngs of adoring fans. Appearing on the wildly popular ABC TV series Dancing with the Stars in 2008, Mario showcased another of his talents—he can move as well as he can sing—and opened himself up to a whole new audience. Where will Mario take his career next? He has set his sights on nothing short of the top: "I want to be an icon," he told Naomi West in the Telegraph. "I want young artists to look up to me and say, ‘Wow, I wanna be like that.’"
Launched to Teen Stardom
Mario Dewar Barrett was born on August 27, 1986, in Baltimore, Maryland, one of three sons of mother Shawn Hardaway. He began singing at age four, urged on by his mother. Mario recalled in an interview with Ebony magazine that his biggest influence was "my mother standing by me and encouraging me to sing…. She kept good music around me, which helped me to see other options. Sam Cooke is an artist I've grown to love; also Earth, Wind & Fire. And my mother played the piano. It was her way of keeping me away from the negative influences in our environment." Despite the early encouragement that Mario received from his mother, their relationship was difficult. Mario grew up not knowing his father, and his mother struggled with a substance abuse problem. He was raised mostly by his grandmother, who died when Mario was twelve years old.
Throughout his childhood Mario competed in talent competitions, dreaming of becoming a star. That dream started to become a reality when he was eleven years old. After performing a Boyz II Men song at a local talent show, Mario signed with his first manager, Troy Patterson—who also became something of a surrogate parent to him when Mario's mother was in the throes of addiction. Three years later Mario came to the attention of legendary music executive Clive Davis—the former president of Arista Records and, more importantly, the man who had discovered such performers as Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Whitney Houston, and legions of other recording artists during the course of his career. After meeting with Mario and hearing him sing, Davis was impressed with the young man's talent and immediately signed him to his J Records label.
Mario released his first single, "Just a Friend 2002," a remix of the 1989 hit by Biz Markie (who also acted as a producer on Mario's version), in May of 2002. The song outperformed the original single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number four. Mario's self-titled debut album appeared that July, featuring the singles "Braid My Hair," "Put Me On," and "C'Mon." The record debuted at number nine on the Billboard Top 10 and went gold within months of its release, selling more than seven hundred thousand copies by 2008. At only fifteen years old, Mario and his image were carefully molded to appeal to teenage girls, and many of the album's songs describe innocent pleasures. Natalie Nichols in the Los Angeles Times described Mario as "recalling the more innocent days of Michael Jackson, or maybe Prince at his most sweet-talking."
Polished His Image
After taking a couple of years off to finish high school, Mario returned with his sophomore offering, Turning Point, in December of 2004. This album, launched just a few months after Mario turned eighteen, was still targeted to female listeners, but it displayed a greater sense of maturity—attributable partly to the more sensual material, partly to the singer's deeper and more masculine voice, and partly to a more polished, adult image designed to draw in a wider audience beyond teenyboppers. Mario had traded his youthful braids and sneakers for a more refined look, sporting a crisp, tailored suit and neatly manicured facial hair.
The smooth, soulful single "Let Me Love You" was a runaway success, holding on to the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for nine weeks and hitting number two on the U.K. Singles Chart. Notably, the single broke the record set by Usher—with whom Mario is often compared—gaining 191 million radio listeners following its release. Whereas his first album had made Mario a pop idol, Turning Point brought him the critical acclaim he desired. He earned two Grammy Award nominations, for male rhythm and blues (R&B) vocal performance and contemporary R&B album, and won the Billboard Award for top R&B/hip-hop single for "Let Me Love You."
Mario released his third recording, the much-anticipated Go!, in December of 2007, dedicating the album to his mother. The record features collaborations with a number of noted R&B and hip-hop producers—including Jermaine Dupri, Ne-Yo, Scott Storch, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Timbaland, The Neptunes, Akon, Polow da Don, and Stargate—and produced the hit singles "How Do I Breathe," "Crying Out for Me," and "Music for Love."
While recording Go!, Mario agreed to allow MTV to film a documentary about his troubled relationship with his mother and her continuing struggle with heroin addiction. I Won't Love You to Death: The Story of Mario and His Mom, which aired in October of 2007, chronicled their everyday lives and emotional pains as Mario attempted to get his mother into rehab. "I found myself really feeling [that] if she didn't get her life together that I didn't want to be a part of her life," Mario said in an interview with Jet magazine in 2008. "It was affecting me every day to the point where I couldn't create." Since completing a stint in a drug rehab facility in 2007, Hardaway has remained sober.
Became a Triple Threat
In addition to his music career, Mario has branched out into acting as well. In 2006 he appeared in the dance-themed movie Step Up, and in 2007 he starred alongside Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank in the film Freedom Writers. His next film role was a small part in Destination Fame.
Seeking to develop his talents and widen his fan base even further, in 2008 Mario appeared on the sixth season of the hit ABC series Dancing with the Stars, on which celebrities are paired with professional dancers and square off in weekly competitions judged by viewers at home. Teaming up with Karina Smirnoff, Mario waltzed, tangoed, and quickstepped for eight weeks, but was eliminated from the show on May 6. Media critics were quick to point out that the show offered Mario an opportunity to reach more audiences. Talent executive Biff Warren told the Baltimore Sun, "This will benefit him and open more doors for him when it comes to television and film. Even in his own music career, it will make him more recognizable in different radio formats, because the show is so popular across the board."
At a Glance …
Born Mario Dewar Barrett on August 27, 1986, in Baltimore, MD; son of Shawn Hardaway.
Career: Recording artist with J Records, 2000—.
Awards: Billboard Award for R&B/hip-hop single, 2005, for "Let Me Love You."
Addresses: Office—c/o J Records, 745 5th Ave., New York, NY 10151. Web—http://www.mario2u.com.
In late 2008 Mario planned to release his fourth album, pleased with the success he has achieved in such a short time. In his biography on his Web site, he reflected, "I feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm supposed to be at this place in every aspect of my life, from personal to business. This is where I am, this is where I chose to be."
Mario, J Records, 2002.
Turning Point, J Records, 2004.
Go!, J Records, 2007.
Step Up, 2006.
Freedom Writers, 2007.
Destination Fame, 2008.
I Won't Love You to Death: The Story of Mario and His Mom, 2007.
Dancing with the Stars, 2008.
Baltimore Sun, May 8, 2008.
Ebony, May 2005.
Jet, May 5, 2008.
Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2002.
Telegraph, March 31, 2005.
Mario official Web site, http://www.mario2u.com (accessed August 21, 2008).
—Deborah A. Ring
"Mario." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mario
"Mario." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved June 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mario
By the time he was 16, Mario Barrett had been performing for 12 years. The R&B teen heart-throb's self-titled debut album reached Billboard's top ten immediately, and soon after that went gold. Barrett has since released a second album, Turning Point. In 2005 he was nominated for two BET Awards.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Barrett grew up performing. "I was always a child of the business," he told Naomi West in the London Daily Telegraph. He began singing in public when he was four, at the urging of his mother, who thought he had a good voice, and spent much of his childhood competing in talent contests, dreaming of becoming a superstar. Barrett told Bhava Malkani on the Situation website that he didn't really begin taking singing seriously until he was "ten or eleven years old. The talent shows really inspired me. It made me believe in myself as everyone was telling me how I could really do this."
Barrett signed with his first manager when he was eleven years old, after being spotted performing a Boyz II Men song at a local talent contest. When he was 14 he was offered a deal by Clive Davis of J Records. Davis, who was in his seventies at the time, had signed such greats as Janis Joplin and Whitney Houston; the young Barrett looked at him and, according to West, thought, "Wow, he's old." However, as he told Dimitri Ehrlich in Vibe, he also knew that Davis was "gonna push me all the way." He added, "And I'm gonna make sure I get that push."
Barrett told Malkani that his inspirations in music were Stevie Wonder and Boyz II Men. On his debut album, Mario, which Malkani described as "a catchy disc filled with up-temp jams and puppy-love ballads," Barrett sang about simple pleasures in songs such as "Braid My Hair" and "Just a Friend 2002." Both songs spent time as top ten singles. The album also featured performances by labelmate Alicia Keys. Barrett told Malkani, "I think my album is kinda laid back. One of those albums you can listen to when you're reading a book or something like that." However, he noted that the album also featured "club bangers" such as "Just a Friend 2002," "Put Me On," and "C'Mon." A Business Wire article quoted a Los Angeles Times reviewer who wrote, "On his debut Mario glimmers … recalling the more innocent days of Michael Jackson or Prince at his most sweet-talking."
Most of the songs were written by others, although Barrett co-wrote "What Your Name Is" and created the concept for "Braid My Hair." He also wrote "Girl in a Picture." "Just a Friend 2002" was a remake of a 1989 hit by Biz Markie; perhaps this is why Mario added the date to its title. Mario debuted at number nine on the Billboard top ten and went gold just a few months after its release. Barrett starred in a half-hour special on the Nickelodeon channel, and was featured in a USA Today article about the next wave of urban pop stars.
Although this was his debut album, Barrett already had a highly polished stage image. Caroline Sullivan wrote in the London Guardian, "He is already an expert manipulator of emotions, holding hands with girls in the front row for a moment too long, and … cuddling a quaking teenager who probably cried herself to sleep later." In the Baltimore City Paper, Bret McCabe noted that Mario was "a closely handled budding pop presence." Perhaps because he was so closely coached, Mario seemed to adjust easily to the intimidating world of the recording industry. He told McCabe that Alicia Keys took him under her wing and offered him advice: "She was just trying to help me out, telling me how everything was going to be crazy and that there was going to be a lot of stress with that, but to have fun doing it at the same time. You know, this is my job now."
Barrett took a couple of years off from recording to finish high school, working with a tutor instead of attending school. He then returned with a new album, Turning Point, which described some of his life and career experiences up to that point, including songs about "girls up to 25 chasing me" and "the ghetto Kama Sutra." As Denise Boyd remarked on the BBC website, "Being 'Just a Friend' is definitely not on his mind." Jem Aswad commented in Entertainment Weekly that the album was clearly targeted at female listeners, and noted that it was "plenty catchy, but so full of sugar that the spoon stands up." In Vibe, Angie Romero noted that on this album Mario "flexes a deeper, more masculine voice."
After the release of this album, Naomi West noted in the Daily Telegraph that Barrett at times came across as slick, as if his record company had coached him on his behavior: "His chat, peppered with buzz phrases about 'staying humble' and 'keeping grounded,' makes him sound as if he has had more interviews than ordinary conversations."
In addition to his musical work, Barrett began looking at potential movie scripts, perhaps hoping to have the same kind of film success that Will Smith enjoyed. He told West, "I want to be an icon. I want young artists to look up to me and say, Wow, I wanna be like that." He received some television exposure with appearances on shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, One on One, and That's So Raven, as well as appearances at the TMF Awards and the Grammy Awards in 2005.
In 2005, Barrett was nominated for two BET Awards: Best Male R&B Artist, and the Viewers' Choice Award for his song "Let Me Love You." He told Malkani that throughout his career, he would like to be remembered as "a person, who loves what he do, loves his fans … and a person who is dedicated to music."
For the Record …
Born Mario Dewar Barrett on August 27, 1986, in Baltimore, MD.
Signed with J Records, 2000; released Mario, 2002; released Turning Point, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—J Records, 745 5th Ave, New York, NY 10151. Website—Mario Official Website: http://www.mario2u.com.
Mario, J Records, 2002.
Turning Point, J Records, 2004.
Business Wire, September 24, 2002, p. 2379.
Cincinnati Post, November 16, 2002, p. B14.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), March 31, 2005, p. O18.
Entertainment Weekly, December 24, 2004, p. 71.
Guardian (London, England), June 5, 2003, p. 28.
"Mario: Interview," Situation, http://www.thesituation.co.uk/features/Mario/Mario.html (May 22, 2005).
"Mario: Sweet Sixteen," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/modules.php?op=modloads&name=News&file=article&sid=152 (May 25, 2005).
"Mario: Turning Point," Vibe, http://www.vibe.com/ (May 25, 2005).
"Mario: Turning Point," BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/urban/reviews/Mario_turningp.shtml (May 25, 2005).
"Mario," TV Tome, http://www.tvtome.com/tvtome/servlet/PersonDetail/personid=119991 (May 25, 2005).
"Teen Scream," City Paper, http://www.citypaper.com/music/review.asp?rid=7151 (May 25, 2005).
"Mario." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mario-0
"Mario." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved June 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mario-0
Mario, Giovanni (Matteo)
"Mario, Giovanni (Matteo)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mario-giovanni-matteo
"Mario, Giovanni (Matteo)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved June 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mario-giovanni-matteo
Mario (mär´yō), 1810–83, stage name of Giovanni Matteo, Cavaliere di Candia, Italian tenor. An officer of the Piedmontese guard, he went to Paris in 1836 and studied at the Paris Conservatory, making his debut (1838) at the Paris Opera in Robert le Diable. He sang with great success in Paris, London, and St. Petersburg, appearing often with his wife, Giulia Grisi. Mario had a very beautiful voice, which, united with personal grace and charm, made him the idol of his public. He retired in 1867.
"Mario." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mario
"Mario." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved June 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mario
"Mario." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 27, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mario
"Mario." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved June 27, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/mario