Mary J. Blige said she “just sang” to get through her tumultuous childhood.
The nine-time Grammy Award-winner sat down with PEOPLE Magazine and opened up about how singing became her safety net during her rough upbringing. “New York is just amazing, and people need to know how amazing it is. There’s too much fun, too many things to eat, too many places to go and so many places to shop in New York,” said the 49-year-old star, who’s teamed up with Google Maps for its 15th anniversary. As a part of the collaboration, Blige shared her favorite places in her home state of New York.
While Blige has many fond memories of her home, she says it wasn’t always the easiest growing up.
“Growing up in Yonkers was very, very hard, but we had to make fun to make it easy, so it was good and bad,” she said, as she revealed that during the bad times, singing became her go-to. “I sang a lot. I just sang. It made me feel better. I’d wake up in the morning singing and go to bed singing, and it just made me feel great, “she said. “What made it hard was the environment. It was a lot of people hurting — trying to survive, and the environment was just terrible. That’s all I can say. Everybody did what they had to do to survive,” she continued.
And Blige did just that, she survived. She went on to gain 30 Grammy nominations and two Oscar nominations as well as many other accolades. In fact, she says, “My Life” is one of the “most important records” of her life. “It’s definitely one of the most important, and it’s one of my favorite songs ever sampled which is Roy Ayers’ ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine.’” The success from the album came as a surprise, she said. “I didn’t know what that was gonna do,” she added. “I had no idea.”
Blige has got the music industry down pat, but she said acting came as a challenge. “Acting is a little harder because you have to make something that’s not living at all exist. But I love the challenge, and I love creating.” Blige has rightfully so become a part of history, especially Black history. Blige says the annual celebration of Black culture during February is a moment she always cherishes.
“Black History Month means so much to me because it’s a time we get to celebrate us,” she tells PEOPLE. “We have this one month, and we have to take advantage of it by understanding how important we are to the universe and to ourselves.”