The singer opens up to PEOPLE about not limiting himself into one box or one identity
Lenny Kravitz has always been comfortable in his own skin, even if there have been times when being mixed-raced caused confusion among others, from going to school to finding a record label.
And just like he doesn't feel confined by one genre — having foraged his own path built on "heritage and creation" — the singer, 59, tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story that he embraces all sides of his identity, whether that's African, Black, Christian, Jewish or Ukrainian.
The son of Sly Kravitz, a Ukrainian Jewish TV producer, and Roxie Roker, a Bahamian American actress, Kravitz grew up with a diverse upbringing, which was rich in Black culture thanks to his parents' circle of friends, including his late godmother Cicely Tyson as well as friends like Duke Ellington, who used to play piano for him as a kid.
“In our circle no one really talked about differences,” Kravitz says now, explaining that while he identifies "as a Black man completely, there are all the other things there too, and I will not discount my father and that heritage."
He adds, "No one in my circle ever said, 'You have to choose or you should choose.' "
But it was at school that Kravitz remembers his mixed race being called into question. "It wasn’t until my parents took me to school in first grade, and a kid stopped, pointed and yelled, 'Your dad is white!' My parents were the only ones that didn’t match," he shares.
After a heart-to-heart with his mom, Kravitz came to understand, “‘You’re no more one than the other, but you are a young Black man. People are only going to see you as Black, and that’s fine.’ It was informative.”
Even so, he also recalls being forced to put all of his heritage and culture into one box — even if he didn't know how or even want to. "I didn't know what the hell to put," the longtime rocker says of those forms he had to fill out in school. "I was Native American. My great-grandmother is pure blood Cherokee Indian, and I'm African and I'm Ukrainian, and also Jewish Christian."
He then recalls asking himself, "'What do I write down?' Because they would only let you put down one thing. I remember saying to the teacher, 'No, no. Just Black,' and keep it moving."
Even long after school, Kravitz was forced to define who he was when he was breaking into music.
Growing up with eclectic influences like the Jackson 5 and Led Zeppelin and wanting to mix hard rock with funk, soul and R&B, "[record labels] said I had to make a choice," Kravitz recalls of his early days as a musician, before adding: "But I never did."
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
"I was not going to sign a deal where people were going to tell me what I had to do, and I finally found the people that believed in me and that's where I went," he says. The "Are You Gonna Go My Way" singer eventually signed with Virgin Records, which released his first eight studio albums, including the genre-defying Let Love Rule, 5 and Lenny.
Including topping the charts and touring around the world, Kravitz has won four Grammy Awards for the hit singles, "Fly Away," "American Woman," "Again" and "Dig In."
His latest album, Blue Electric Light, will be released through BMG and was recorded largely in the Bahamas with the singer playing most of the instruments himself.
"I was always going to make the music I made," says Kravitz, who notes that Zeppelin had such an impact on him growing up because they were channeling "the power of Black music like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley," which opened up this "vortex" in him.
"Rock and roll is not 'white,' " Kravitz says, explaining that "we have to retain our heritage and creations."
For more on Lenny Kravitz's life and loves, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, available on newsstands everywhere now.
For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!
Read the original article on People.