When India.Arie made her debut on the charts in 2001 with Acoustic Soul, few knew the sista preaching about self-acceptance and love was conflicted within.

Arie says she was forced to fit the neo-soul category against her wishes. She spent two years writing songs for her debut album and was told “‘it wasn’t giong to work'” by record executives. “They kept asking, ‘Where’s the beat?’ Acoustic Soul ended up being a distorted version of how I saw myself,” said Arie.

The Georgia-based singer had her own vision of what her music should sound like. She intended it to be “a cross between Stevie Wonder and James Taylor, a soulful singer with a folk edge who talked about spiritual principles and ideals,” she added.

Despite clashing over the direction of her music and even her style of dress, Arie pressed forward with creating her sophomore album, Voyage to India (2002). It was a commercial success and it led to more attention and fame. But in the midst of the growing fame, Arie began to question if she was remaining true to herself and her music. “It was so hard,” said Arie. “How do I be the real me and find a way to reconcile that with this other life that I had stepped into? I had no one to talk to about it and I just felt sad for years.”

In 2007, Arie was invited to celebrate the opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. There, she was asked to give an impromptu performance and was greeted with words of encouragement from Winfrey, Tina Turner and Cicely Tyson.

Pick up the July issue of ESSENCE to find out how these women helped India.Arie embrace her spirituality.