In a nondescript room in the middle of the Shed, a cultural center in New York City's new Hudson Yards development, singer, actress and producer Janelle Monáe is telling CNBC Make It about the many women who have mentored her over the years.
Academy Award-nominated director Ava Duvernay and Emmy-winner Lena Waithe helped her grow in the industry and launch Wondaland, Monáe's own multimedia company. Ariel Investments's Mellody Hobson helped her fine-tune her finances.
But just before the launch party for her limited-edition "A Beautiful Future" Belvedere Vodka, the Grammy nominee says that it's her parents who have had the most influence throughout her life.
Monáe, 33, grew up working class in Kansas City, Kansas: Her mother was a janitor, her biological father was a garbage man and her stepfather still works as a postal worker. Monáe helped pay for college by working at Blockbuster, Foot Locker and as a maid.
"I saw my parents living check to check, putting on their uniforms every day, working hard," says Monáe. "There were moments when my lights were cut off."
All along, she says, there was no pretense of perfection. Her parents encouraged her to learn from them and, hopefully, do better.
"I did see them make mistakes, and they were very open about how important education was," she says. "They always encouraged us to just be better than them."
But her parents also instilled in her an appreciation of a supportive community, which is at the heart of Monáe's many artistic and business ventures. With her mentors and many other collaborators, she is always working to create something greater than herself.
"Without your community, without your family, you couldn't survive," she says.
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